Varlamov earns top star with record-setting week

Three games, three wins for the Colorado Avalanche as their best week of hockey this season vaulted them into the heart of the playoff race. The Avalanche shutout the Blackhawks in Chicago, then came home to beat the Ottawa Senators and the Dallas Stars at the Pepsi Center.

The Avs equaled their longest winning streak on the season with three-straight wins and improved to 9-3-2 in their last 14 games. Semyon Varlamov, Erik Johnson, and Matt Duchene led the way and earned the club’s three stars for the first full week of 2015:

First Star ★ Semyon Varlamov, Goalie

Varlamov played in MVP form – registering an outstanding .961 save percentage with a 1.66 goals-against average, three wins, and a jaw-dropping shutout on the week. He was unbeatable in a record-setting 54-save shutout to steal a win from the offensively potent Blackhawks in the United Center to start the week. The Russian netminder set a new a career high, an Avalanche record, and an NHL road record with 54 saves in a shutout. “It’s a big game for us for sure,” Varlamov said after the dominant effort. “It’s tough to play against Chicago, especially in this building, They have one of the best crowds here.” The 26-year-old set an Avalanche three-game record with 127 saves on 132 shots in the week. After starting the season battling a groin injury, Varlamov has now started seven consecutive games and improved to 10-8-5 on the season. The Avalanche need their starting goalie to continue to stand on his head if they are going to participate in the playoff race.

Second Star ★ Erik Johnson, Defense

Johnson kept the momentum from his scorching hot month of December rolling with two goals, a +2 plus/minus rating, and a team-leading 14 blocked shots while averaging a team-high 23 minutes on the ice per game in the week. He scored the game-winner in the second period against the Senators with a wrist shot from the point while Jarome Iginla was screening Craig Anderson. The 26-year-old became the first Avalanche defenseman to be selected to the All-Star Game in over 10 years on Saturday. “I’m very honored and humbled and I want to keep going,” Johnson said. “I’m not satisfied – I want to continue to help this team win.” He is just the fourth Avalanche defenseman to be selected to the All-Star game since the team moved to Denver. The Minnesota native leads all NHL defenseman with a career-high 12 goals on the season.

Third Star ★ Matt Duchene, Center

Duchene scored a highlight reel, game-winning goal and added two assists for a team-leading three points and a +2 plus/minus rating on the week. His game-winner against the Stars was a thing of beauty. Just 12 seconds into the third period, Duchene skated around the net with the puck, spun around in the opposite direction, and ripped a pinpoint wrist shot over Kari Lehtonen’s glove. “That’s something that I’ve done quite a bit in my career and it doesn’t always go in, so it’s nice when it does,” Duchene said. “It was a great forecheck by [Rendulic]. He got them to turn the puck over and a nice little bump to me. I was just able to kind of take the corner and get a good shot off and fortunately, it went in.” He added the primary assist on Johnson’s second period goal and six shots on net in a brilliant performance. Duchene also picked up an assist on Brad Stuart’s goal against the Senators The 23-year-old is heating up with five points in last five games.

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