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Avs take big step forward at Kings’ expense

David Van der Gulik

Colorado Avalanche right wing David Van der Gulik passes the puck as he lays on the ice during the third period of their NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012, in Los Angeles. The Avalanche won 3-1. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)


The natural reaction is to slack your jaw in amazement that the Colorado Avalanche opened up tonight’s game against the stingy Los Angeles Kings with a 3-0 first period lead.

Instinctively, it’s hard not to saturate your attention on the Kings’ failings, much like we do with each Washington Capitals flop. The Avalanche looked awfully strong in what ended up being a 4-1 win in Steve Downie’s debut with the team, though.

Perhaps the most promising thing is that some frustrating should-be stars lead the way. Semyon Varlamov hasn’t justified the heavy cost of the trade that brought him in, but he showed some of the brilliance that prompted the deal by stopping 32 out of 33 shots. Paul Stastny has seen his stock drop dramatically the last few seasons, but he showed a lot of zip in his step while scoring two goals and coming near a hat trick.

Downie wasn’t a huge difference-maker in his 16:20 minutes of ice time, but he still seems like a good grab for a Colorado forward corps that lacks some size and muscle.

This win makes the Western Conference playoff bubble look awfully interesting:

7. Phoenix: 69 points (30 wins, 27 in regulation/OT) in 60 games played
8. Los Angeles: 66 points (27 wins, 23 in regulation/OT) in 61 GP

9. Calgary: 65 points (28 wins, 25 in regulation/OT) in 60 GP
10. Dallas: 64 points (30 wins, 26 in regulation/OT) in 60 GP
11. Colorado: 64 points (30 wins, 23 in regulation/OT) in 61 GP

12. Minnesota: 61 points (26 wins, 21 in regulation/OT) in 59 GP
13. Anaheim: 60 points (25 wins, 23 in regulation/OT) in 60 GP

In case you’re wondering, I basically broke up the teams in three groups: in the top eight (7-8), just a step behind (9-11) and not totally out of it (12-13). Stay tuned tomorrow morning for a breakdown of the Kings’ playoff prospects.