Avs on top after eight straight wins
DENVER ” Skating well, winning games and perched in first place, things are finally starting to get back to normal again for the Colorado Avalanche.
Milan Hejduk scored a pair of power-play goals 34 seconds apart to lift the Avs to their eighth straight win, a 5-3 victory over Toronto on Tuesday night that pushed them into a tie for the Northwest Division lead.
Rookie Marek Svatos scored his 27th goal of the season, best in the Western Conference, to help Colorado match its longest winning streak since Oct. 10-28, 2000.
“We’re playing good hockey, we’re on a roll and it’s a lot of fun,” Hejduk said. “We’re definitely enjoying it.”
The Maple Leafs lost their third straight.
After struggling with their rebuilt lineup, then with an assortment of goaltending problems, the Avalanche have found their stride, right in time for the second half of the season.
Though they still only have the sixth-most points in the West, they moved into a tie with Calgary and Vancouver in the Northwest. That’s a good sign for a team that won nine straight divisions and was one of the best teams in hockey during the decade leading up to this season’s new collective bargaining agreement.
“We’ve really enhanced our position in the last week,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s better than hanging onto that eighth or ninth position. Now, we’re looking at taking the division. It’s a realistic objective.”
If the Avs are going to continue to dominate, it will be with players like Hejduk leading the way.
He was decisive and crisp in scoring his 12th and 13th goals of the season, both from point-blank range. The first came off a pass from Alex Tanguay on a 5-on-3 power play to tie the game at 2 with 11:52 left in the second. Moments later, Brett McLean found Hejduk unhindered in front of the net on the 5-on-4 for the go-ahead score.
That score made Hejduk the first player to reach 100 goals at the Pepsi Center, the home of the Avalanche since it opened prior to the 1999-00 season. Hejduk had a shot at an open net for the hat trick, but a Toronto defender deflected it with 10 seconds left.
Goalie David Aebischer, maligned earlier in the season while the Avs were languishing in third and fourth place, has been in net for the last seven Avalanche wins.
“When you win some games in a row, the panic gets out of the way,” defenseman Rob Blake said. “We know David’s going to shut it down for us now.”
Abby gave up a bad goal to Jeff O’Neill after overcommitting on a shot by Mats Sundin that hit the back boards and ricocheted out to the other side of the net. That gave the Leafs a 2-1 lead early in the second, but Aebischer was solid from there, finishing with 24 saves and allowing only one more goal, to Sundin with 5:16 left.
Jason Allison opened the scoring for Toronto, which matched its longest losing streak of the season in the first of four straight games on the road.
“Too many penalties and when we went into the penalty box, they put it into the net,” Leafs coach Pat Quinn said. “They were weak penalties. And mistakes where we made a mistake with the puck and either hooked somebody or got a stick up on someone. They are our mistakes and double mistakes. Give the puck away and hook somebody to cover up your mistake and we paid for it.”
Ed Belfour made 26 saves in the losing effort. He was helpless on Colorado’s first goal, a Blake slap shot that was redirected by Tanguay on the power play to tie the game at 1.
A few minutes after Hejduk’s flurry, Cody McCormick also beat Belfour for his first goal of the season and a 4-2 lead.
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