Avs' Varlamov earns win over Wild
By Michael Kelly, The Sports Xchange
Minnesota 4 Colorado 5
DENVER -- What looked like a rout turned into a nail-biting finish for the Colorado Avalanche
Fortunately for them, they have goaltender Semyon Varlamov -- and, it turns out, for a long time.
Varlamov capped a big day with 31 saves, center John Mitchell had a goal and an assist, center Matt Duchene had two assists, and the Avalanche beat the Minnesota Wild 5-4 Thursday night.
Centers Ryan O'Reilly, Paul Stastny, Maxime Talbot and Nathan MacKinnon also scored for Colorado.
Varlamov started his day by inking a five-year contract extension with Colorado and finished it by holding off a late rally by the Wild. The 25-year-old Russian is now signed through the 2018-19 season.
"It's a good thing to sign the deal right now so I don't have to worry about the contract situation anymore," Varlamov said. "Now I can stay focused on my game. The Olympics is coming, and that's a big thing, too. I don't have to worry about the contract and the Olympics."
Varlamov came to Colorado in a trade with the Washington Capitals on July 1, 2011. He struggled to find consistency under former Avalanche coach Joe Sacco but has flourished under first-year coach Patrick Roy, a Hall of Fame goalie.
"Thank God the right people came to the team during the summer," Varlamov said. "Patrick, and especially (goaltending) coach Francois Allaire, Those guys helped me a lot. They changed my game."
Left winger Zach Parise had two goals and two assists, and center Mikael Granlund and right winger Jason Pominville also scored for Minnesota, which finished the season 1-4 against Colorado.
Thursday's loss left the Wild nine points behind third-place Colorado in the Central Division, with the Avalanche having played three fewer games.
"It was a big game for us," Duchene said. "We have three games in hand and we're up (nine) points in the standings. That puts us well ahead, and we just have to keep taking care of business."
The Wild were playing well before Thursday, going 9-3-1 in January and getting into the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. The return of Parise four games ago bolstered an offense that was clicking.
He had a goal and two assists against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday, and he tied the game at 1-1 early in the first period Thursday.
It stayed that way until the Avalanche exploded for three goals in the second period. Mitchell's wrist shot 1:43 into the frame broke the tie. Stastny scored on a rebound midway through the period, and Talbot made it 4-1 when he used Minnesota center Kyle Brodziak's stick to score his sixth of the season at 15:26.
"I got it on my stick and was real slow reacting," Brodziak said. "The guy was right on my back. My leg went forward and I ended up putting it in."
A minute later, Minnesota goaltender Darcy Kuemper was pulled in favor of Niklas Backstrom.
Kuemper stopped 19 of the 23 shots he faced. Backstrom saved eight of nine.
"They had a couple guys that skated really well and gave us a tough time, but it was what we weren't doing," Pominville said. "We weren't skating enough, we weren't on our toes enough early in the game. I mean, when you get behind the eight-ball like we did, it's tough to get back."
Backstrom kept Minnesota in it, and Parise scored 7:47 into the third to make it a two-goal game. It was his 18th goal of the season.
Granlund made it 4-3 with 7:09 left in the game, and MacKinnon appeared to put it away with a breakaway goal at 17:35.
Pominville answered 11 seconds later, his 22nd goal of the season. Backstrom went off for an extra skater with 1:07 remaining, but Minnesota couldn't tie it.
"You're not always going to win the 5- or 6-1 game when you're up 4-1, especially if you lose your focus or take it a little bit easy," Roy said. "The other team just needs a little bit of momentum, they score and then you have to protect that lead."
The Wild appeared to have survived Colorado's best in the first period. O'Reilly gave the Avalanche a 1-0 lead with his 20th of the season 4:41 into the game.
After Parise tied it on the power play, the Avalanche got three straight power plays but could not capitalize on them.
Minnesota had the best scoring chance during one of the power plays when Brodziak went in alone on Varlamov, but the goalie made the save to keep it tied.
NOTES: Minnesota D Jared Spurgeon skated with the team Thursday morning, and he could return to the lineup as early as Saturday. Spurgeon was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury Jan. 4. ... Avalanche RW P.A. Parenteau was a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game. Parenteau played three games after missing the previous 10 with a sprained knee. ... Wild G Josh Harding is on injured reserve due to an illness but has begun skating again.
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