CHICAGO (AP) – Colorado is in the mix for one of the top playoff seeds in the Western Conference, and first-year coach Patrick Roy thinks the Avalanche are one of the NHL’s biggest surprises.
Tyson Barrie scored a tiebreaking power-play goal with 7:10 left in the third period, and the Avalanche beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 on Tuesday night for their third straight win.
Colorado reached the 40-victory mark faster than any team in franchise history. It also improved to 3-1 against the Blackhawks this season and moved within one point of the Stanley Cup champions for second in the Central Division.
“Our objective at the start of the season was to surprise the world of hockey,” Roy said. “Today, I guess we’re making it even more interesting. We’re one point behind these guys with one game in hand.”
Barrie got open in the left circle and one-timed Erik Johnson‘s perfect cross-ice feed high past Corey Crawford on the glove side. It was Barrie’s second game-winner against Chicago this season, following an overtime goal against the Blackhawks on Jan. 14.
“He put it right in my wheelhouse and I was able to get everything on it,” Barrie said. “You always want to put it upstairs. I was lucky to beat Crawford there.”
Paul Stastny completed the scoring with an empty-netter with 32.6 seconds left. Rookie Nathan MacKinnon got an assist on Stastny’s 20th goal, extending his point streak to 12 games, tying Wayne Gretzky’s record for an 18-year-old set in 1979-80.
Barrie scored for the second straight game as Colorado’s defensemen continued to contribute offensively. The Avalanche got four goals from defensemen in a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Ryan O’Reilly and Maxime Talbot also scored for the Avalanche, who are 17-6-1 since New Year’s Eve. O’Reilly has three goals and three assists in his last four games.
“I think we know what we’ve got in here,” Barrie said. “We’ve got a great group of guys. It’s a lot of fun to play.”
Hossa left Saturday night’s 5-1 victory over Pittsburgh at Soldier Field with an upper-body injury and is expected to miss two to three weeks. Brandon Saad moved up again to take Hossa’s spot on the right side of Chicago’s top line with Toews and Patrick Sharp.
The Blackhawks outshot Colorado 38-21, and Chicago coach Joel Quenneville thought that statistic reflected the play on the ice for most of the game.
“I think we outchanced and outplayed them,” Quenneville said. “I didn’t like any of the goals that went in tonight. It was one of those games.”
Chicago also lost ground to St. Louis, which beat Tampa Bay 4-2 and is all alone in the Central lead, three points behind Anaheim for the top spot in the conference.
“We lost a lot of ground,” Quenneville said. “A four-point swing.”
Chicago and the much-improved Avalanche could meet in the opening round of the playoffs under the NHL’s new alignment.
“I would say 80 percent, if not 90 percent, said at the beginning of the year the Avalanche will miss the playoffs,” Roy said. “It’s not done yet, but we’re certainly in good shape right now.”
Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov made 36 saves. Crawford had 17 stops in the Blackhawks’ first game at the United Center since a 3-1 loss to Winnipeg on Jan. 26.
The Blackhawks outshot Colorado 11-3 in a scoreless first period, but didn’t generate many prime chances.
Talbot put the Avalanche in front 2:49 into the second when he got his stick on Johnson’s low shot from the right point. Positioned in the right circle, Talbot barely ticked Johnson’s wrister, but it was enough to direct the puck between Crawford’s pads.
The Blackhawks turned up the pressure after falling behind, outskating the Avalanche and forcing turnovers. Varlamov helped keep Chicago off the board with several sharp saves, including point-blank stops on Toews and Peter Regin.
Smith and Chicago’s solid fourth line tied it at 1 with 3:08 left in the second. Capping some work along the boards with Brandon Bollig, Smith cut into the left circle and fired a shot past Varlamov with Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda screening.
O’Reilly snapped off a low shot from the right circle that slipped between Crawford’s pads at 1:23 of the third to put Colorado ahead 2-1.
Toews replied with a power-play goal at 7:17. After slipping to the right side of the net, Toews took Sharp’s feed and fired it past Varlamov to complete a slick passing series.
NOTES: The Blackhawks acquired D David Rundblad and D Mathieu Brisebois in a trade with Phoenix before the game. Rundblad will join the Blackhawks and give them eight defensemen on the roster. Brisebois will report to Rockford of the AHL. Chicago parted with a second-round selection in this year’s draft to complete the trade. … Crawford wore his black leg pads against Colorado. His favorite set, custom white models, disappeared from Soldier Field after Saturday’s game.
By MATT CARLSON, Associated Press
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