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Slumping Avs fall 5-2 to Ducks

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER – A feeling of anxiety -- perhaps panic -- has enveloped the Colorado Avalanche, and with good reason, as the club's postseason hopes now hang by a thread.

The Avalanche have lost three games in a row and six of their past seven, the latest defeat Wednesday night's 5-2 setback at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks at the Pepsi Center.

Coupled with Calgary's 2-1 win over Phoenix, the Avalanche's once-seemingly comfortable lead in the race with the Flames for the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff berth has been sliced to two points, setting the stage for Friday's monumental showdown with the Flames in the Mile High City.

"It's going to be a huge game," Avalanche captain Adam Foote said following a team meeting that lasted 16 minutes. "We'll regroup going into that game and get our game plan. Everybody has to take a deep breath and remember the little things that we did well to be here.

"This has been a team where we've been a nice surprise all year. No one's had a lot to talk about. There's not been a lot of pressure put on us. We're going to have to go back to work and support each other and get it done.

"It's going to be interesting to see how we react to this."

Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson, who has given up 14 goals in his past three starts, didn't have much defensive help and allowed five goals on 27 shots.

"We're still leading the race," he said. "We have six games left and destiny in our own hands. We control our own fate. If we win Friday, we're looking pretty good. That's the bottom line. We need to focus for the next game and put this one behind us."

The Ducks line of Jason Blake, Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne combined for three goals and eight assists, with Blake leading the way with five points (one goal, four assists), tying a career-high.

Anaheim has won seven of its past nine games but remains in 11th place, seven points behind Colorado with six games to play.

The Avalanche gave up goals in the final 30 seconds of the first and second periods to fall behind 3-1 before Selanne, with his 601st career goal, and Blake put the finishing touches on the rout with third-period goals.

Selanne has tied his idol, Jari Kurri, for 17th place on the NHL's all-time list for goals and for the most goals by a Finnish-born player.

"It's a big honor," Selanne said. "Six-hundred was bigger for me, but 601 is huge, too. If someone would have told me I would have as many goals as Jari, that would just be a fantasy for me. I feel very honored."

The Ducks also received an outstanding performance from backup goalie Curtis McElhinney, who made 27 saves for his fourth win in a row.

The Avalanche, meanwhile, have picked a bad time to hit their worst skid of the season.

"I certainly don't think that we're squeezing the sticks," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "All season long, the couple things that we've done pretty consistently is play with passion and play with energy, use our speed. We've got to find a way to get that back for 60 minutes in our game. Right now that's lacking.

"Listen, we're fighting for a playoff spot. There's a lot on the line here, but we're still in a good spot. Are we playing the way we want to be playing? No, but it's a long season and you're going to face some obstacles along the way and we've got to face the challenge the right way."

Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer scored with 30 seconds remaining in the second period after Koivu's shot from the slot caromed off the boards behind the net for a 3-1 lead. The puck came to Niedermayer deep in the left circle and his shot hit Foote and slid inside the near post.

The Avalanche had closed to within 2-1 on Milan Hejduk's power-play goal at 13:22 of the period, and Colorado nearly tied the score moments later when Ryan O'Reilly clanged a shot off the right goal post during a scramble in front.

The Ducks took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Steve Eminger and Koivu, whose goal with 3.4 seconds left came on a two-on-one rush after a giveaway by Foote.

Eminger opened the scoring at 15:40 with a shot from the right point that hit Avalanche center Matt Duchene's glove before entering the net for his first goal in 20 games.

The closest the Avalanche came to scoring in the period came when Cody McLeod batted a deflected puck past McElhinney at 6:13. But McLeod knocked the puck in with a high stick and the goal was disallowed.

"That was a big break for us," Koivu said. "It took some momentum away from their side."

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