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Surging Avalanche defeat struggling Coyotes

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For Matt Duchene and the Colorado Avalanche, keeping focused on a chance to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs means keeping one eye on the out-of-town scores while trying to pile up as many points as they can down the stretch.

Duchene did his part Thursday. With Colorado's lead cut to one goal in the third period, he scored a key insurance goal to help the Avalanche to a 5-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes.

Ryan O'Reilly and Jarome Iginla scored 29 seconds apart in the first period for Colorado (33-26-11), which has won three in a row and 11 of 15 games since Feb. 14 but is still seven points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.

The Jets rallied for a 2-1 win against the St. Louis Blues in a game that started two hours before Colorado's game. Duchene was among the Avalanche player following the game between shifts.

"I was watching the scores the whole game, seeing what teams were winning and losing and it was about 50-50 as far as the help we're looking for," Duchene said. "Winnipeg [winning] was the tough one; they are in the spot we want and we need them to lose.

Rookie Freddie Hamilton scored his first NHL goal in the second period, and Gabriel Landeskog added his 20th into an empty net for Colorado (33-26-11). Goalie Semyon Varlamov made 28 saves.

"They had a good start and it took us five or six minutes before we starting putting shots on net," Colorado coach Patrick Roy said. "It was important to get back in the game as soon as possible. Those two goals [by O'Reilly and Iginla] were a key moment in the game.

Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored his team-leading 18th and 19th goals for Arizona (21-42-8), which has lost 16 of its past 17 games and scored 22 goals during that span. The Coyotes, who have lost 14 of their past 15 at Gila River Arena, have scored two goals or less in 18 of the past 21 games.

Ekman-Larsson's 19 goals lead all NHL defensemen; he has one more than Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators.

"He had a slow start and the rest of the season he's been real good in the goal-scoring department," Arizona coach Dave Tippett said. "There are still parts of his game that have to grow, but if we can build a better nucleus around him I think he'll turn into even a better player."

Rookie goaltender Louis Domingue made 24 saves for Arizona, which lost forward Martin Erat to an upper-body injury in the second period. Erat did not return.

The Coyotes got off to a fast start, outshooting the Avalanche 6-1 in the first four minutes and scoring when Gagner found a wide-open Ekman-Larsson with a pass across the crease. Ekman-Larsson beat Varlamov to the near post with a high wrist shot at 3:24 for his first goal in 13 games, since he scored in Colorado on Feb. 16.

But the Avalanche flipped the momentum quickly with the goals by O'Reilly and Iginla.

O'Reilly took a pass from Landeskog and split two defenders. Domingue stopped his shot but lost the puck underneath him before pushing it across the line with his own skate at 8:15. O'Reilly has goals in back-to-back games after going 17 games without scoring.

"They got kind of a lucky break on that," Domingue said. "I take the blame for that. Not that I didn't think I played well, but I could have made one more save to help the team."

Colorado made it 2-1 at 8:45 when Arizona defenseman Michael Stone leaped but missed a puck that went over his head, sending Iginla in 2-on-1 with Duchene. Iginla held the puck and beat Domingue cleanly between the pads with a wrist shot. It was the 22nd goal and 49th point of the season for the Iginla; the 37-year-old leads the Avalanche in each category.

"After those two goals, I thought we played a solid road game," Iginla said.

Hamilton, acquired from the San Jose Sharks on March 2, made it 3-1 at 8:09 of the second period by deflecting Brad Stuart's shot between Domingue's pads.

"It was special. It hasn't really hit me yet," Hamilton said of scoring his first NHL goal. "I've been waiting a long time for that. They tell you good things happen when you go to the net, and it's weird that a lot of first goals happen like that."

Ekman-Larson pulled the Coyotes within 3-2 at 11:53 of the third period, knocking a Lauri Korpikoski rebound out of the air, off Stuart and into the net for his second goal.

But Duchene changed the scoreboard to restore the two-goal lead and made sure the Avalanche did their part to stay in the race.

"We have to take care of our business but it's nice to get some help," he said. "We have a game in hand, so we can take care of that [Friday against the Anaheim Ducks]."

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