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Varlamov's 54 saves lead Avalanche past Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger / NHL.com

CHICAGO -- Semyon Varlamov's statistics are down significantly from a season ago, but he hadn't faced the Chicago Blackhawks until Tuesday.

Once again, the Colorado Avalanche goalie stayed true to form for his career against the Blackhawks, whom he won four times against last season. Led by Varlamov's 54 saves, the Avalanche beat Chicago 2-0 for their first win in three games this season.

Varlamov's performance was a carbon-copy of last season against the Blackhawks (26-12-2), who lost despite holding a wide advantage in shots (54-24). Last season, the Blackhawks out-shot Colorado by margins of 39-29, 38-21, 48-26 and 37-23 in their four losses.

"It was pretty déjà vu for sure," said forward Nathan MacKinnon, who scored a goal and assist. "[Varlamov] was standing on his head. It's funny how it works. [He] seems to love playing in this building and playing against Chicago in general. They fire everything at the net. They just put all the pucks in the world on net and I think that helps [him] get hot. At the same time, the best defense is when we have the puck ourselves and create more, but we can't complain. We got the two points and lately those haven't been easy to come by."

The Avalanche (16-16-8) got all the scoring they needed in the first 1:17 of the game. MacKinnon made it 1-0 at 53 seconds and set up a goal by Maxime Talbot 24 seconds later for a two-goal lead. MacKinnon scored high to the short side off a rebound of John Mitchell's shot from the slot before blowing past two Blackhawks defensemen to set up Talbot's goal off a 2-on-0 rush to make it 2-0.

It was almost all Chicago from that point, but Varlamov and some good fortune made sure it didn't matter.

"Obviously [Varlamov] was the story of the game," Colorado coach Patrick Roy said. "He was outstanding out there and made some really good saves. One thing's for sure, he could not lose his focus. He had plenty of work out there, but [Varlamov] is one of our best players and if we want to have a chance to get back in the [Stanley Cup Playoff] picture, it's got to start from him."

MacKinnon's goal continued a negative trend for the Blackhawks, who've allowed the first goal in six straight games. They are 3-3-0 in those games, but have yielded 12 goals in the opening period.

"It's frustrating," said forward Patrick Sharp, who put five shots on goal and missed the net twice. "I think we can do a better job of getting to the net. I think the most frustrating part is the way we started the game again. Being down 2-0 quick like that changes the whole way the game is going to be played from there on out. We did generate a lot of shots on net. The second and third opportunities are where we needed to capitalize."

Like the majority of the games it has fallen behind early, Chicago refused to wilt. The Blackhawks outshot the Avalanche 17-11 in the first period, 21-5 in the second and 16-8 in the third. Varlamov, who is 8-3-0 with a 1.91 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in 12 career appearances against Chicago, simply refused to let a puck go into the net. He also benefited from good fortune.

Following a point shot by center Brad Richards, Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell missed a wide opening behind Varlmov with a backhand shot off the rebound during a power play in the second. Forward Brandon Saad hit the left goal post 11 seconds into the third with a backhand Varlamov didn't see, but it was another missed opportunity. They continued to press the rest of the third, but Varlamov didn't crack.

Saad appeared to score with 2:37 left after Varlamov trapped a point shot by defenseman David Rundblad between the pads, but the play was blown dead before he poked the puck into the net. It was a continuation of what happened a season ago, when the Blackhawks couldn't solve the Colorado goalie.

In six games against Chicago the past two seasons, Varlamov is 5-0-0 with a 1.17 GAA and .969 save percentage.

"It's nice to have that record, but we're not focusing to beat only Chicago," he said. "We're focusing to be in a playoff spot. We're fighting for a playoff spot and all points right now are important for us."

Getting off to better starts is now squarely the focus for the Blackhawks, who start a two-game road trip at the Minnesota Wild on Thursday.

"You worry about your next game and next shift as a player," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "That's your objective to bring the focus, bring the motivation of doing the right things and that's what it's all about. There were a lot of guys that were fine tonight, but the start definitely put us in a tough spot."

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