Despite having superstars Peter Forsberg and Theo Fleury out of the lineup because of injuries, the Avalanche beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 on Sunday in one of the toughest NHL arenas for a visitor.
Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk and Claude Lemieux scored in the third period for the Avalanche. It was Pittsburgh's first home loss since Jan. 26, ending a 9-0-2 streak on home ice.
Overall, the Penguins are 0-3-2 in the last five, their longest winless streak of the season.
The difference was defense. Avalanche coach Bob Hartley was convinced that was the only way to go with Forsberg and Fleury out with injuries.
"We were in their face the whole game," Hartley said. "We kept them to the outside and that's what you have to do with the Penguins. They like to storm the net."
The plan made perfect sense to Pittsburgh coach Kevin Constantine.
"If you've watched Colorado over the last couple years, they're probably one of the most wide-open teams," Constantine said. "But I think if you take Forsberg and Fleury out of the lineup, the whole psyche of the team changes. Then they're playing real tight and waiting for a break."
The break came when Hejduk broke a 1-1 tie with his 10th of the season at 13:15. He faked a pass from the right circle, then fooled goalie Peter Skudra with a soft shot that hit off Skudra's blocker. Half of Hejduk's goals have been game-winners, but probably none of them were as easy as this one.
"It was a lucky goal," said Hejduk, who admitted he was surprised when he saw the puck get past Skudra.
"To give up a goal like that in a 1-1 hockey game. ... it's pretty tough," Skudra said. "It was my mistake. This was the kind of game that's going to be decided by a mistake and that's what happened."
Pittsburgh pulled Skudra for an extra attacker with more than two minutes left. Lemieux scored into an empty net with 40 seconds remaining for his 23rd goal.
Martin Straka, just back from a two-game injury absence, scored his 31st for the Penguins at 16:56 of the first period. German Titov shoveled the puck out from beind the net and Straka one-timed the pass through a small opening on the short side.
Sakic gave the Avalanche a 1-1 tie at 2:53 of the third period with his 30th goal. Sakic parked in front of the net and redirected Lemieux's centering pass past Skudra.
Colorado goalie Craig Billington made a spectacular save on Jaromir Jagr's breakaway about six minutes into the game. Jagr went to the backhand and Billington gloved the puck at the left side of his net.
"That's his bread and butter, the breakaway," Lemieux said. "(Billington) made a huge save."
Said Billington, "He made a great move. I was fortunate to stay with it."
Jagr, the Peguins' captain, declined to answer questions.
Both teams were missing key players. Colorado goalie Patrick Roy had the flu. Forsberg, the Avalanche's leading scorer with 76 points, did not play because of an elbow injury he sustained in Thursday's game at Tampa Bay. Fleury missed his third game with a knee injury.
Pittsburgh goalie Tom Barrasso missed his third game with a broken wrist. Pittsburgh's two top defensemen are also out: Kevin Hatcher has a broken foot and Darius Kasparaitis strained his right knee.
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