Varlamov stops season-best 47 shots as Avalanche clinch playoffs
The Colorado Avalanche are back in the postseason.
But they may have to move on without Matt Duchene.
If Semyon Varlamov continues his breakout season, the Avalanche might not miss their leading scorer.
Varlamov had a season-high 47 saves and Colorado clinched its first playoff berth in four years with a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday.
Center John Mitchell had a goal and an assist for the Avalanche, who moved past Chicago into second place in the Central Division with 100 points in what might have been a costly victory.
Duchene suffered a left knee injury on the opening shift Saturday when he collided with teammate Jamie McGinn near the Sharks blue line. He fell to the ice and then gingerly skated to the bench.
He is scheduled to have an MRI on Sunday.
"We’ll know more after that," coach Patrick Roy said. "It’s not good news for him and it’s not good news for us. It’s the way it’s been all year."
Despite the injuries — Colorado has lost top-six forwards Alex Tanguay and P.A. Parenteau — the constant has been Varlamov. He came through again against the relentless Sharks, who threw 74 shots at him. Colorado blocked 25.
"I’m guessing he was the first star," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said of Varlamov. "He should be."
Down a player, Varlamov made up for it with an outstanding performance. He stopped 20 shots in the third period, many during the final minutes when the Sharks were trying to get the equalizer.
His 37 wins are the most in the NHL and a big reason the Avalanche reached 100 points for the first time in 10 years.
"He’s been tremendous," captain Gabe Landeskog said. "I think it’s safe to say we wouldn’t be here without him."
Colorado was a mainstay in the playoffs when the franchise moved to Denver in 1995. After winning the Stanley Cup for a second time in 2001, the Avalanche reached the Western Conference finals the following season before heading into lean times.
Now they have a chance to return to the glory years with a young, eager group.
"We’re certainly not satisfied with just squeaking into the playoffs, we want to do damage," Landeskog said.
Mitchell moved up to center Colorado’s top line, and came through with a big power-play goal to give Colorado a 3-1 lead at 6:32 of the second period.
"It came right to me slow enough so I could get a forehand shot and I just one-timed it into the back of the net," Mitchell said. "I was just at the right place at the right time."
Paul Stastny and Cody McLeod also scored for Colorado.
Varlamov’s strong play beforehand helped Colorado maintain a 2-1 lead. The Sharks outshot the Avalanche 11-3 in the second, many of those coming early when they were trying to tie it.
Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle scored for the Sharks, who are 1-2-2 in their past five games but still hold a slim lead for first place in the Pacific over Anaheim.
Goalie Alex Stalock had 19 saves for San Jose before being pulled for an extra attacker in the final minute.
"I thought we played extremely well, thought we generated a lot of chances," Joe Thornton said. "It’s just sometimes you don’t win those types of games."
Boyle cut the lead to 3-2 when he took a pass from James Sheppard and scored off Varlamov’s left shoulder 2:03 after Mitchell. It was his 10th goal of the season.
The Sharks got a chance to tie on a 4-on-3 power play after Ryan O’Reilly took his first penalty of the season, a minor for playing with a broken stick.
Stastny’s 26th goal 1:33 into the game gave Colorado a 1-0 lead. Pavelski tied it on the power play less than two minutes later with his 38th.
The Sharks had another power-play chance midway through the first, but McLeod sneaked behind the defense, took a long pass from Nick Holden off Boyle’s glove and beat Stalock to give Colorado a 2-1 lead.
"I took my eye off the puck for a fraction of a second to make sure I wasn’t going to get drilled," Boyle said. "I just caught a piece of it and missed it. That’s an unfortunate bounce."
NOTES: Mitchell returned to the lineup after missing four games with a back injury. … The Sharks reassigned F Freddie Hamilton to Worcester of the AHL on Friday. … McGinn played after skipping practice Friday. He took a shot off his foot in Thursday’s win over Vancouver.