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Halfway There: Avalanche Bury the Senators 5-2 in Game 41

The Avs' veterans sent them soaring over the Ottawa Senators and moved the team within 5 points of the playoffs at the season's halfway mark.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

First Period:

The Avalanche started the period off well, pushing the pace of play offensively and forcing Ottawa to the outside defensively.  Nathan MacKinnon's line in particular came to play in the early minutes of this game, pinning the Senators in their own zone for a long, physical shift.  The first really dangerous chance of the period, however, came when the Avs 4th line and 3rd defensive pairing got trapped deep in their own zone by the line of Colin Greening, David Legwand, and Erik Condra.  The Sens sent a save-able shot at Varlamov on the short side, but then a sprawling Erik Condra picked up the rebound and sent it towards the top shelf on the short side again.  Varlamov seemed to lose sight of the puck after the initial rebound, but he reacted well to Condra's rebound attempt and shrugged the puck off his shoulder and over the net.

After a few minutes of strong play from the Senators, the Nathan MacKinnon line went to work in the offensive zone.  They didn't register a shot on net but they possessed the puck a long time along the boards, cycled well and wore down the Ottawa defenders.  Roy followed their shift with a shift from the 4th line, who immediately and needlessly iced the puck.  This is one of my biggest personal gripes with Roy's line usage, he follows up too many good shifts with a momentum killing shift from the 4th line.

After the icing, we saw some of the Avalanche's best players make the simple, smart, possession oriented plays that this team is missing far too often.  The Avalanche won the faceoff and Erik Johnson carried the puck end to end.  Instead of making a risky pass, or wiring a shot wide of the net as hard as he could, Johnson used the break to put a decent, safe shot on net, forcing Anderson to cover the puck and giving his team an offensive zone faceoff (eventually resulting in a goal). On the ensuing faceoff the Avalanche lost possession, but forechecked well and Tanguay forced the Ottawa defense to make a bad pass which was deftly picked off by Ryan O`Reilly.  O`Reilly cycled for Tanguay, who passed to Iginla, who made a slick "give-and-go" play with Tanguay then shot the puck on net where O`Reilly was already drawing defenders and screening the goalie.  The result?  An Iginla wrist shot goal to take a 1-0 lead.  Great work all around from that line and a spectacular shift offensively and defensively from Ryan O`Reilly.

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After the Avalanche goal there were several minutes of even, neutral zone hockey without much action to speak of.  With a little under 8:00 left in the first period, however, the Senators started to take control of the game again.  The Sens had a dangerous 2-on-1 chance where Bobby Ryan fired the puck wide of the net.  Still chasing Ryan, Brad Stuart kicked Varlamov's stick out of his hand, and the Avs weathered a quick barrage of chances with a stickless Stuart, and Varlamov holding a players stick.  The Avalanche earned some quick relief from the Sen's offensive push when the 4th line ginded out a long shift in the offensive one with Cody McLeod drawing a hooking penalty along the boards.

The Avalanche power play was, well.... disgusting.  After flubbed zone entries from O'Reilly, Landeskog, Iginla, and Barrie (x3) and a 3-on-2 opportunity for the Senators, the Avalanche had their first controlled possession of the power play with just 7 seconds remaining.  As you can probably guess, they did not register a shot.  Moments after the power play expired, the Avalanche found a hero in an unlikely jersey.  Matt Duchene won an offensive zone back to Jan Hejda who swung the puck point to point to Brad Stuart who ripped a slapshot clean past Craig Anderson and into the back of the net.

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After the goal Matt Duchene and Borna Rendulic had a strong shift in below the Senators goal-line, cycling well and wearing down the Senators defense.  Rendulic was popping in and out of open space in the high slot looking for a one timer and doing a good job of moving his feet in the O-zone (a problem which has plagued him in the NHL so far), and just when the Avalanche looked ready to strike, Landeskog made an ill-advised cross ice pass to a pinching Brad Stuart that took a bad bounce off the boards and sent the Senators the other way with Rendulic late on coverage for Stuart.  The Senators missed the cage, but Landeskog has got to be more aware about who's on his line and who has to be the first man back.  Later on the same shift Borna Rendulic made a super light, super clean, super nothing body check on a Senators forward, but because he extended his arm, he was called for holding. Silly call that unfortunately negated a really good shift from Rendulic.

The first half of the Avalanche's penalty kill was excellent, with Ryan O'Reilly and Alex Tanguay playing absolutely dominant, super intelligent hockey.  First Tanguay broke up a pass and sprung O'Reilly for a 1-on-1 break with a stickless Kyle Turris.  Turris maintained body position well and slowed O'Reilly enough that he could only take a wrist shot from a ways out before the Ottawa defense caught up with him.  Later on the penalty kill Tanguay stripped another Sens player of the puck and went for his own breakaway.  Unfortunately, Tangs' mind time-traveled about 10 years and he was convinced that he'd burned the whole Sens team by a mile.  Tanguay tried to out-wait Craig Anderson before his age (in the form of slow footspeed) caught up with him in the form of 3 Ottawa back-checkers who stripped him of the puck before he could fire a shot on net.  Luv U Tangs.  The Senators used the second half of the power play to barrage the Avs with shots, but a combination of strong saves from Varlamov and missed nets by Mika Zibanejad and Erik Karlsson kept the score at 2-0 as time expired.  The Senators would start the 2nd period with 7 more seconds on the power play.

Second Period:

Penalty killed. Officially now. Or so it seemed.  The Senators came out of the gate playing with fire and kept the puck in the Avs zone for the full first 2:00 minutes of the period.  Aside from one offensive shift from Nathan MacKinnon, the Senators kept the puck in the Avs end for the vast majority of the first 3:30 of the period and were eventaully rewarded with a goal from Mark Stone.  The Avalanche were caught off guard on the play when Karlsson came streaking down the left side with a number of Avs defenders puckwatching, Karlsson fed Stone in the high slot, where he was all alone and able to skate past Cody McLeod and into the Avalanche net.  Avalanche 2, Senators 1.

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The Avalanche's 2014-15 MVP was dissatisfied with only a one goal lead and quickly put the Avs back up by two just fifty-three seconds later. The O'Reilly line was forechecking well again and created a turnover for ROR at the left point.  O'Reilly swung right Erik Johnson, who buried the rolling puck behind Craig Anderson for his 11th goal of the year.  Avs 3, Sens 1.

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The Senators really starting to push the pace after the Avs 3rd goal, tilting the ice to a 9-2 shot advantage in the first 9:00 of the period.  After Erik Johnson took a hooking penalty the Senators stealthily replaced Anderson with Lehner during the TV timeout.  The Senators looked extremely dangerous on the power play, but Varlamov made a number of good saves (while also benefitting from some timely misses).  The most dangerous opportunity came from an inexplicable Kyle Turris breakaway.  Turris made a great forehand backhand move to stretch Varlamov post to post, but he launched the puck wide of the net on his backhand.  When Erik Johnson stepped out of the box he snagged the puck for a quick rush down the left side, and a hard wrist shot at the newly en-goaled Lehner, but the backup swallowed up his first real shot of the night.

The Avalanche may have killed the penalty but they continued to suffer an onslaught of Ottawa shots, with the Senators finally doubling up at 20-10 SOG.  After a bad neutral zone turnover, Tyson Barrie and John Mitchell tried to cover the same player on the Ottawa rush.  When Barrie realized the mistake he swung around and pulled Jean-Gabriel Pageau down from behind.

The Avalanche then participated in the most hilarious penalty kill of all time.  The festivities started off with Max Talbot losing his stick near the blue line, then diving on his stomach to clear the zone with a sweep of the glove.  Later, Cody McLeod and Marc-Andre Cliche both had separate collisions with Robin Lehner miles and miles away from his empty net.  Cliche had a chance at a wide open net, but Clarke MacArthur tipped his shot high and wide.

The character of this game changed completely around the 7:00 mark when the Avalanche absolutely took over the play in all three zones.  The Avalanche were dominant in every phase of the game, firing the puck, banging bodies, and usig their speed to force Senators players to scramble all over the ice.  Nathan MacKinnon was right at the head of this Avalanche resurgence, creating havoc wherever he went and generally beasting Senators players at every turn.  This was the MacKinnon we got used to at the end of last year, the one who could beat opposing players with whatever tool felt right at the time: speed, strength, hands, or smarts.  Awesome stuff.  That stretch of play culminated in a 2-on-1 rush for Gabe Landeskog and Matt Duchene.  Duchene made an excellent saucer pass to Landeskog who fired the puck high off Lehner's shoulder and then off the crossbar.

While the Avs didn't score on the 2-on-1 opportunity, they did draw a slashing penalty out of Erik Karlsson with 1:05 left in the period.  On the bright side, that's the kind of result you want out of a great play that doesn't wind up in the net.  On the not so bright side, it meant that the Avalanche were going to be on the power play, and that hasn't been very good lately.  Sure enough, the Avs power play was less than spectacular, and the most dangerous chance went to the shorthanded Ottawa squad.  Varlamov made a huge save in the last minute to preserve the 2-goal lead heading into the final frame.

Third Period:

The third period got off to a quick start when the Avalanche power play turned things around in the first 23 seconds.  Nick Holden made a spectacular corner to corner pass to find Alex Tanguay near the Ottawa goal line.  Tanguay then dished the puck to his hockey-chemistry-life-partner Jarome Iginla who buried the puck for his 2nd goal of the night.  Beauty. Avs 4 Sens 1.

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The Avalanche didn't hold onto their 3-goal lead for long though.  Just 42 seconds later Erik Johnson committed a tragic turnover coming out from behind his own net and passing the puck directly to the highly skilled Bobby Ryan.  Ryan made a good move to go far-side on Varlamov and tuck the puck under his skate and bring the Sens within 2.  Avs 4 Sens 2

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Just kidding! The Avalanche did enjoy the 3-goal lead because they took it back 1:35 after the Bobby Ryan goal.  On a set play breakout Nate Guenin dropped the puck behind the net for Tyson Barrie who swerved around to the low left circle and sauced a pass diagonally up ice to catch Daniel Briere in stride at the Ottawa blueline.  Briere took a few strides into the Senators zone before blasting a slapshot past Robin Lehner to put the Avs up 5-2.

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With about 13:30 left in the period, the Duchene line had a fantastic shift in the Sens zone.  First Matt Duchene had a chance on the rush and wired a shot just wide of the net, then Borna Rendulic drove the net and tried to reach the puck far-side on Lehner Forsberg-style, but he was denied by the pad.

From there this game slowed down considerably.  Down 3 the Senators started to push back again and the Avalanche let up on the offensive side of the puck.  The Senators shot totals inflated considerably, but the Avs clamped down well defensively and cut back significantly on their turnovers and defense zone breakdowns.  They kept the Senators to the outside, limited screens in front of Varlamov, and for the most part cleared pucks out of the zone effectively.  The third period ticked by quickly and uneventfully until the final 2:00, when the Avalanche did everything in their power to feed Jarome Iginla the puck so that he could sink his 3rd of the night.  No luck as Iginla missed high and wide on his best opportunity late in the game.

Horn buzzed. Avs win 5-2. GG Sens, play us more often please.

Avs Three Stars of the Night:

1. Iginla

2. Varlamov

3. Tangauy

MHH Three Stars of the Night:

1. Iginla - 2 goals for the HOFer

2. O'Reilly - Spectacular game on both sides of the puck

3. Varlamov - Made the saves he needed to make, plus a bunch extra. 88 saves on his last 90 shots against.

Next Up: The Avs take on the Dallas Stars at the Pepsi Center Saturday afternoon 3:00 PM EST 1:00 PM MST