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Raycroft shines as Stars beat Avs

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER – The Dallas Stars might be just fine in goal after all.

With Kari Lehtonen sidelined for at least three weeks with a groin injury, the Stars are counting heavily on Andrew Raycroft to keep the team afloat until their No. 1 goalie is able to return.

Raycroft, winless in five previous decisions this season, came through in a big way Monday night, stopping 35 shots in the Stars' 3-1 victory against the struggling Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center.

"It's nice. It's nice to get a win," said Raycroft, whose previous victory came Jan. 9 last season against Minnesota. "It's just as important to have all the guys believe in me and know that I can get wins for them. It's always a lot more fun to win.

"I felt great and I have felt great. I felt great at practice the other day and I feel like I'm doing the right things. Tonight, our guys played great, especially in the third. We didn't give up much at all."

The outcome was in doubt until Michael Ryder scored into an empty net with 27.7 seconds remaining for his second goal of the game.

Ryder, who played with a heavily-taped sore leg and had one goal in the previous nine games, put the Stars ahead 2-0 on a semi-breakaway against goalie Semyon Varlamov off a pass from Loui Eriksson with 5:24 to play.

"There was a little change and I was coming back and I saw Loui get the puck and I kind of just busted and caught their defense a little off-guard," Ryder said. "I tried to get a quick shot off and I beat him high glove."

It proved to be the decisive goal when Kevin Porter put a backhanded shot past Raycroft with 3:36 to go for his first goal of the season, slicing the Stars' lead to 2-1. The goal came on the Avalanche's 34th shot.

"Tonight was a big win for us," Ryder said. "It was a battle right to the end and we found a way to win. It's huge for Rayzor to get it. I think that's the main thing. We're happy for him to get that win. It seemed like when he came in there (before), we never played our best games.

"You need two goalies in the season to help you win. He's been there for us, supporting us even though he hasn't played as much as Kari. We need him now, and I think tonight we showed him that we really want to play for him. We proved it, I think, with the way we played."

As well as Raycroft performed, his teammates did an effective job bottling up the neutral zone to negate the Avalanche's speed and kept the majority of shots to the outside.

The Avalanche has scored just 24 goals in 13 home games and lost nine of them. Ryder's empty-net goal was the eighth scored against Colorado this season.

"We can't score," Avalanche captain Milan Hejduk said. "We're squeezing the sticks. We're not creating enough good scoring chances. We had 35 shots, but you can't really say we had some good chances. It is frustrating. They're boxing us out and we're not getting the chances from the prime scoring areas."

Varlamov has strung three good games in a row, allowing two goals in each, but was tagged with the loss in two of them and is in a 1-7-1 slump since Oct. 30.

"He's playing well and giving us a chance very game," Hejduk said. "We are not helping him much."

The Stars took a 1-0 lead at 15:56 of the first period on the goal by Eric Nystrom, who skated to the front of the net to cash in a rebound after Varlamov made a pad save against Vernon Fiddler. Nystrom has scored three of his eight goals in the past three games.

"That helped," Raycroft said. "It's nice to get a lead on the road. We haven't really been able to do that, to get off to that lead early, and it's a big deal on the road."

Varlamov, who had 32 saves, kept the game scoreless two minutes earlier when he stopped Jamie Benn on a short-handed breakaway.

The Avalanche's best chance in a scoreless second period came at the 37-second mark after Raycroft made a save against Gabriel Landeskog. He left a big rebound and the net was wide open, but Stars forward Mike Ribeiro managed to knock the puck away before Ryan O'Reilly could get to it.

Both teams have been struggling with their power plays. The Stars went 0-for-4 and are in a 0-for-20 drought with the man advantage in an eight-game stretch. The Avalanche went 0-for-3, heard a smattering of boos from the crowd, and are now in a 3-for-26 slump over eight games.

"We couldn't even set it up there," Hejduk said. "We didn't get any momentum, nothing. Our power play definitely has to be better."

The Avalanche still haven't won two games in a row since a five-game streak on the road from Oct. 10-17.

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