By Michael Kelly
DENVER — The Chicago Blackhawks are the defending champions, but the Colorado Avalanche don’t seem impressed by that.
In fact, the upstart Avalanche seem to thrive on playing their new rivals.
Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly had a goal and an assist each and the Colorado Avalanche completed their season-long dominance of Chicago with a 3-2 win over the Blackhawks on Wednesday night.
Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad scored for the Blackhawks, and Antti Raanta had 26 saves in his first start since Jan. 28.
Colorado moved a point ahead of the Blackhawks (91-90) in the Central Division with 16 games remaining for both teams. If the Avalanche can hold onto second place and home-ice advantage in a possible first-round matchup between the teams, their 4-1 mark against the defending Stanley Cup champs will be a big reason.
“I didn’t mind our game tonight. Very even, very competitive,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We gave up that early goal, the first goal of the game. It’s kind of what’s gone on against them all year.”
Semyon Varlamov had 37 saves and Brad Malone also scored for Colorado.
Both teams hit posts early in the first period but the Avalanche struck first. Malone, recalled from the AHL after forward P.A. Parenteau suffered a knee injury Monday, beat Raanta with a sharp-angle shot from the left side with 1:36 left in the first period.
Matt Duchene made it 2-0 just 19 seconds into the second period.
“The first one at the end of the first was a bad goal. The first one was not the kind of goal you want to give up. Then 20 seconds into the second it was 2-0,” Rannta said. “The game was good, it was a tie game and we both had great chances. It’s hard to come back from two goals back. If we keep doing jobs like this we’re going to win games.”
Duchene’s goal seemed to energize the Blackhawks. They started putting more pressure on Varlamov and finally broke through at 8:23 of the second.
Kane skated into the offensive zone, stickhandled by defenseman Jan Hejda and roofed a backhander past Varlamov from close in. It was Kane’s 29th of the season.
Chicago nearly tied it several times in the third before Colorado got an insurance goal on a 5-on-3 power play.
Thirty seconds after Andrew Shaw was sent off for interference, Marcus Kruger’s clearing attempt went into the stands, giving Colorado a two-man advantage.
O’Reilly scored with 5 seconds left on Shaw’s penalty to make it 3-1.
“Yeah, it’s unfortunate it had to come to that,” captain Jonathan Toews said.
Raanta went off for an extra skater with 2:32 remaining and Saad scored 15 seconds later.
The goalie was pulled again in the final two minutes but Chicago couldn’t tie it.
“We’re playing from behind, we chipped away, chipped away to get ourselves back in the game with a chance in the end to tie it,” Quenneville said. “But when they scored on a 5-on-3, that was a big one.”