DENVER – A fast start kept the flickering playoff hopes of the Colorado Avalanche afloat.
Colorado scored three times in the first period against Jonathan Quick, one of the top goalies in the league, to send the Avs on their way to a 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.
The win pulled Colorado to within two points of Los Angeles for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
And just like that, the Avs may be buyers instead of sellers at the rapidly approaching trade deadline.
“Before the game, I wanted to make sure everybody knows it’s a big game,” coach Joe Sacco said.
A message they certainly received.
Paul Stastny scored two goals to help the Avalanche to their first season sweep of the Kings in nearly two decades. Colorado finished 4-0 against Los Angeles this season, the first time the team has swept the series since 1992-93, when the franchise was in Quebec.
“This was a must-win game for us,” said Semyon Varlamov, who had 32 saves for his 16th win of the season, a new career high. “It was important points for us.”
Varlamov lost his shutout bid early in the third period when Dustin Brown deflected in Drew Doughty’s slap shot from near the blue line.
The young Russian goalie is seeing more time lately with Jean-Sebastien Giguere on the mend from a groin injury. Varlamov has had success against the Kings this season, going 3-0 with a 1.30 goals-against average.
“I tried to do my best,” Varlamov said. “I didn’t play that well my last game and I know this one was very important for us. The playoffs are coming and we need every win.”
Steve Downie made his debut with the Avalanche after being acquired Tuesday from Tampa Bay for defenceman Kyle Quincey, who was subsequently dealt to Detroit for a first-round pick and a minor leaguer.
The 24-year-old Downie arrived in the Mile High City late Tuesday and was so eager to get to the rink that he hardly slept.
“It was disappointing taking off on the plane (and leaving the Lightning),” he said. “But it was even more exciting landing.”
Downie led the Lightning in penalty minutes (121) and fighting majors (5).
He was paired with Ryan O’Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog on the team’s top line.
Downie didn’t take long to make his presence known—and felt—as he decked Justin Williams with a crushing blow along the boards in the opening minute. He also drew his first penalty when he tripped Williams later in the first.
“I thought Steve was good tonight,” Sacco said. “I think you could tell there was a little bit different feeling in the room. I think that’s par for the course anytime a new player comes in.”
Colorado jumped all over Quick early in the game, with Mark Olver scoring on a wrist shot, Stastny taking advantage of a turnover deep in the Kings zone with a wraparound goal and Jay McClement tipping in a pass from O’Reilly.
Quick was replaced by Jonathan Bernier for the second period.
It was the second straight night that Quick has struggled. The Kings blew a three-goal lead in a 5-4 shootout loss at Phoenix on Tuesday.
He has allowed seven goals in his last two outings, but still has a 1.92 goals-against average.
“There is a lot on the line this week,” Quick said. “We’re still right there. We have to focus more than we did tonight.”
Brown couldn’t agree more.
“We just have to keep moving forward,” Brown said. “At this point of the year, we can’t dwell. I think we had a wake-up call tonight. Our attitude as a team needs to change, and it needs to change quickly.”
With the Avalanche out to a big early lead, things got chippy in the second period. So much so that five players were sent to the box on one play, three for roughing and two for misconduct.
Later in the second, Stastny added his second goal of the game, beating Bernier as he fell backward. It was Stastny’s second multi-goal game of the season.
“From start to finish, we played our game and we didn’t sit back,” Stastny said. “With big points at stake, sometimes you sit back and play a little defensive, which we didn’t.”
Matt Duchene suited up for a game on home ice for the first time since Dec. 29. He was out for nearly eight weeks with a knee injury.
Duchene said this was his longest layoff from hockey since he was 12 years old and broke his leg.
The skilful scorer took advantage of the down time by watching hockey—lots of it—and catching up on his reading. He’s finishing up Drew Brees’ book “Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity.”
“I’ve been reading it before game days,” said Duchene, who had an assist on Stastny’s second goal. “I used the time to not only heal my body, but heal my mind as well. Now, I feel really refreshed physically and mentally.”
NOTES: Avalanche D Erik Johnson (back spasms) didn’t return after the first period. … Kings F Dustin Penner was a scratch for the fifth time in six games.