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Peter Budaj makes 24 saves to help Avalanche end skid against Blackhawks

CHICAGO - The Colorado Avalanche snapped a six-game losing streak - with a lot of help from the Chicago Blackhawks.

Peter Budaj made 24 saves, and Marek Svatos and Ryan Smyth each had a goal and an assist in Colorado's 5-1 victory Sunday. The Avalanche, last in the Western Conference, won for the fourth time in their last 14 games and the seventh time in their last 24.

Ben Guite, Chris Stewart, Milan Hejduk also scored, and Tyler Arnason had three assists. The Avalanche's six-game skid was the franchise's longest since the Quebec Nordiques lost eight in a row in January 1992.

"Obviously the standings look pretty bad for us," Budaj said. "It's great to get a win. It's a great effort. Everyone was contributing. It's a very good hockey team on the other side. We outplayed them tonight. That's big."

The Avalanche are headed to their first losing season since 1993-94.

"The key was to try to get off to a good start and see which team was going to wake up in an afternoon game," Smyth said. "We've been finding ways to lose. Today we found our legs early."

Jonathan Toews scored for Chicago, which lost its second straight. Toews has 11 goals in his last 11 games and leads the team with 28 goals.

His power-play goal in the second cut it to 2-1 and gave Chicago some momentum. Budaj made several timely saves before the Avalanche broke the game open and then kept Chicago at bay.

"I thought we did a real good job defensively," Colorado coach Tony Granato said. "That's obviously an important part against a team that has such speed and talent."

The Blackhawks didn't flash it on Sunday, however.

"Today all aspects of our game were off, every single one," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "I used really bad adjectives to describe our game today. This was a curveball and we have to get back to basics.

"I think a game like today's reminds you that there are no games that you can take for granted. The last 20 games will be harder than the first 62."

Chicago right wing Martin Havlat left the game with a lower body injury after his fourth shift in the second period and did not return.

"We'll have a better idea when we skate on Tuesday," Quenneville said.

Havlat has 12 goals and 19 assists in 30 games since Jan. 1.

"When one guy goes down, everybody's got to step up," Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith said. "We've got to keep looking at it one game at a time. Everybody's talking about playoffs, but it's a couple of months away. We have to become a better team."

Antti Niemi was shaky in his second NHL start for Chicago, making 24 saves while giving Cristobal Huet the day off.

Huet has started 10 of Chicago's last 12, including the Blackhawks' 5-3 loss at Boston on Saturday. He normally alternates with Nikolai Khabibulin, sidelined since Feb. 11 by a groin injury.

Colorado jumped ahead 2-0 late in the first period on goals by Guite and Stewart.

Guite scored with 6:26 left in the first when Ruslan Salei's 40-foot shot from the right wing deflected off Guite's body.

Stewart made it 2-0 3:27 later with a deflection from the right edge of the crease. He was set up when Arnason tipped Adam Foote's shot from the point across the crease.

Toews' power-play goal at 6:53 of the second cut it to 2-1.

Budaj made several close-in saves to keep the game close before Hejduk and Svatos scored goals 2:34 apart late in the period.

Hejduk made it 3-1 with four minutes left in the second, ripping a shot from the right circle past Niemi's right skate. Svatos converted Arnason's centring pass.

Smyth wrapped in a rebound of Svatos' shot at 5:37 of the third.

Notes: Chicago C Samuel Pahlsson, acquired from Anaheim on Wednesday, skated Sunday for the first time since being diagnosed with mononucleosis in January and said he could be ready to return in about a week. ... Blackhawks RW Patrick Sharp missed his 10th game because of a left knee injury. He's expected to resume skating this week. ... Khabibulin has resumed skating, but hasn't taken any shots. Chicago GM Dale Tallon said both Sharp and Khabibulin are "very close" to returning. ... Colorado LW Cody McLeod missed the game after injuring a shoulder Wednesday night against Detroit.



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