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Kings edge Avalanche in overtime

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER – The Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche were going to be underdogs regardless of their first-round playoff opponents, but at least now both know where they’re headed.

The Kings used a come-from-behind 2-1 win in overtime over the Avalanche Sunday at the Pepsi Center to move up one spot to sixth place in the Western Conference and will meet the third-seeded Vancouver Canucks.

"They’ll get a real taste of playoff hockey right away,” Kings coach Terry Murray said of his players. "A bunch of guys who've never been there … when you go to a Canadian city it's not just the team you're playing against."

The Avalanche, which was locked into the eighth seed, will face the San Jose Sharks, who claimed the top seed when Chicago lost in overtime to Detroit.

"They're a team that in the past hasn't lived up to their expectations, but they may use that as motivation,” Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said of the Sharks. “They'll be challenging themselves to get out of the first round and we'll be doing our best to prevent that."

The Kings could have finished as high as fifth had the Red Wings lost, but they’ll take their chances with Vancouver. The Kings went 1-2-1 against the Canucks this year.

"You want to finish as high as you possibly can in the standings," Murray said. "We had a big push to win this game to give us that opportunity. At least we did our part of it today, but it's over now and it's on to Vancouver."

Dustin Brown converted the rebound of Drew Doughty’s shot at 1:31 of the extra period, the fifth consecutive overtime game for the Kings, who went to shootouts in their previous four games and head to their initial postseason since 2001-02 on a 4-0-3 streak.

"It's my first playoffs, so I'm excited," Brown said. "We wanted to finish as high as we could. Vancouver's been a good team all year. We'll start focusing on what we need to do to beat them."

The Kings ended with a 46-27-9 record and 101 points, surpassing the century mark for the first time since 1990-91.

"It's a win and it's 100-plus points," Murray said. "That's something we've been addressing in pregame talks for the past several games. I think it's a great accomplishment. Players have to be proud of themselves. I'm proud of the way they played this year. It's a giant step."

The Avalanche, which finished last in the West a year ago, improved to 43-30-9 and 95 points. Colorado went 2-2-0 against the Sharks, but ended the year with a three-game losing streak (0-1-2) and 3-7-3 skid in the final 13 games.

"Obviously we're excited to be in the position that we're in,” Sacco said. "We worked hard all season long to get ourselves there. San Jose is obviously going to present a challenge. With San Jose, you're going to have to focus on their big line -- the (Patrick) Marleau, (Dany) Heatley, (Joe) Thornton line. Obviously they have some other players, but that's a key component to their offense.

"Guys like (Joe) Pavelski and (Ryane) Clowe are very dangerous. And then in the back end you're going to have to deal with a guy like (Dan) Boyle, who's very offensive minded, jumps up in the play. It's going to be an exciting matchup for us; we're looking forward to it. We had a good series against them this year."

Sacco isn’t putting much stock in how the Avalanche finished the season and he expressed some optimism that rookie center Matt Duchene and left wing Peter Mueller could be available when the series begins. Duchene missed his first game Sunday because of a torso injury and Mueller sat out his fourth game in a row while recovering from a concussion.

"I think the last three games were difficult because we had some guys that were sitting out and some guys that were nursing injuries, so you have to use different combinations on your special teams," Sacco said. “That makes it a little more challenging. Once Game 1 starts, it's a brand new season.”

Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson, who faced 33 shots, was working on a shutout until the Kings tied the game with 4:32 to play in the third period. Matt Greene fired a shot from the right point and Jarret Stoll deflected it in.

"It's been a tendency of our team where we get off to slow starts and then we play like we can, especially in the third," Brown said. "We've done it, I don't know how many times in the third in the last month where we're down and we have to come back."

Rookie Ryan Stoa, with his second goal in the past two games, gave the Avalanche a 1-0 lead at 9:02 of the first period.

Milan Hejduk made a nifty move in the right circle and passed to Stoa, who put a shot on goal while skating to the net and jammed the rebound by Kings goalie Erik Ersberg, who had 31 saves.

"We played pretty good and we’re going to do a couple of touch-ups before (meeting the Sharks),” Avalanche captain Adam Foote said. "I’m really happy to be where we are. We faced adversity and we’re right where we want to be. We were going to be an underdog no matter who we played."

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