DENVER -- It has been eight years since the Toronto Maple Leafs put together a run like this, a six-game winning streak that has moved them into the thick of the Stanley Cup Playoff picture.
The James van Riemsdyk-Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel line combined for three goals and three assists Tuesday, goalie James Reimer made 35 saves and the Maple Leafs defeated the Colorado Avalanche 5-2 at Pepsi Center to match their longest winning streak since Dec. 23-Jan. 2 in the 2005-06 season.
Toronto ended Colorado's winning streak at four games and handed goalie Semyon Varlamov his first regulation defeat since Dec. 10, a 3-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. Varlamov, who went 11-0-5 in his previous 16 decisions, was replaced by Jean-Sebastien Giguere at 2:55 of the second period after allowing three goals on 10 shots.
Rookie Nathan MacKinnon scored late in the second period and early in the third to pull the Avalanche within 4-2, but Giguere went to the bench for an extra skater with 2:56 to play and Jay McClement scored into the vacated net with 2:13 remaining.
"When you score the first goal on the road it gives you a little bit of a lift," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "We played a decent enough of a hockey game to give ourselves a chance. The home team’s going to come with a push, and we withstood that."
The Maple Leafs opened a four-game road trip Monday with a 4-2 win against the Phoenix Coyotes and are 6-6-0 in the second game when playing back-to-back.
"They were waiting for us, they were fresh, and I’m sure their mandate was to direct everything they possibly could at the net and James stood tall for us," Carlyle said.
The Maple Leafs took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Kessel and van Riemsdyk.
Kessel stretched his goal-scoring streak to four games and his point-scoring streak to seven when he scored at 3:56, shortly after the Maple Leafs held the Avalanche to one shot on a power play.
Dion Phaneuf fired a long pass for Kessel that caromed off the boards behind Varlamov. Kessel was under a head of steam when the puck bounced to him and he beat Varlamov with a quick shot to the stick side.
"Dion made a good play," Kessel said. "I kind of whiffed on it, but it went in. That’s where I was going. That’s how it goes. We’re winning, that’s the most important thing. We're on a pretty good roll right now."
Kessel finished with eight of Toronto's 31 shots.
"I had a bunch tonight," he said. "I missed some good chances."
Van Riemsdyk scored a power-play goal at 17:41, 13 seconds after Matt Duchene was penalized for hooking Nikolai Kulemin. Cody Franson intercepted Avalanche defenseman Nick Holden's attempted clear up the slot, took a shot, and van Riemsdyk tipped it in for his 20th goal.
"I think it was just a team effort," Reimer said. "Coming in tonight we could have given excuses, back-to-backs or the altitude, it’s a lot tougher to be coming in here. Your lungs are burning, but we stuck with it. We came out flying and it was a big game for the boys.”
Nazem Kadri increased the lead to 3-0 at 2:55 of the second period. Jake Gardiner took a shot from just inside the blue line and Kadri tipped it into the net.
Giguere relieved Varlamov at that point and allowed Kessel's second goal of the game and 26th of the season at 5:17. Van Riemsdyk weaved through the Avalanche defense for a shot that Giguere poked away, but Kessel gained possession and scored from the slot for a 4-0 advantage.
"It happens," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said of Varlamov’s performance. "He was so good for us. There's nights like this as a goalie. The puck has eyes. They find their way in and it was like this tonight. I think Varly was just a bit tired. I almost took him out after the first period. I didn't see in him the same energy that he's shown since the start of the year. When he gave that third goal, there's no need to push that.”
Giguere stopped 19 of 20 shots in his first game since Jan. 6, a 4-3 home loss to the Calgary Flames.
"One thing I liked tonight was when Jiggy came in he made some good saves and gave us a chance to stay in the game," Roy said. "To me, that's the positive side. The good thing is it allowed Jiggy to play and he made some great saves. We didn't have the same jump that we normally have."
Kessel has five goals in his goal-scoring streak and 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in his point-scoring streak.
The Avalanche broke through at 18:35 of the second on MacKinnon's first goal. PA Parenteau, who missed the previous 10 games because of a sprained left knee, passed to MacKinnon cutting to the net for a shot by Reimer's glove.
MacKinnon scored again at 5:07 of the third period. After taking a pass from Maxime Talbot, MacKinnon fired the puck over Reimer's glove for his third two-goal game of the season and 17th goal overall.
The Avalanche outshot the Maple Leafs 17-6 in the third period before McClement's empty-net goal, but Reimer made a number of big saves.
"I think we lost the game in the second period," MacKinnon said. "Their goalie made some good saves for them. We've been playing well of late, but we can't let this game get us down too much. We were buzzing in the third. Jiggy made some huge saves for us to keep us in the game."