Anaheim Ducks Daku Koivu, left, of Finland, and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Shane O'Brien, right, fight for the puck in the first period of an NHL hockey game on Monday, Feb. 27, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)
DENVER - Rapidly sinking in the standings, the Colorado Avalanche were in real danger of being left in the dust.
A trade for gritty forward Steve Downie and a four-game winning streak later, Colorado has suddenly climbed right back into the thick of the playoff chase.
Ryan O'Reilly broke a tie 37 seconds into the third period and Downie added two more assists, helping the Avalanche beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 on Monday night in a game between two surging teams.
Cody McLeod, Matt Duchene and Jay McClement also scored for the Avalanche, who moved into a tie with Dallas for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"We're bleeding confidence right now and it's easy to play when you're like that," Duchene said.
Bobby Ryan had a goal for a weary Ducks squad that was playing for a third time in five nights. The fatigue showed in the third period when Anaheim surrendered three goals, including two within a span of 2:18 to help Colorado end a six-game skid to the Ducks on home ice.
Not one to usually make excuses for his team, coach Bruce Boudreau made an exception this time.
"It looked like we had nothing," he said. "We were just hoping to hang on for the third, but we made mistakes that were very uncharacteristic to us the last two months. I think they were really tired."
The Ducks were, at that. But that's to be expected this time of year.
"It's a grind for every team," said Rod Pelley, whose team beat Chicago 3-1 on Sunday. "Every game is a playoff-atmosphere game and we're in a position where we can't have a night off or be sluggish or not have energy. Unfortunately, we can't afford that right now."
Semyon Varlamov had another solid performance as he stopped 27 shots. He's given up just two goals in his last three contests, including a shutout at Columbus last Friday.
Earlier in the day, the Avalanche orchestrated their second trade in a week. They acquired forward Jamie McGinn and two prospects from San Jose in exchange for T.J. Galiardi, Daniel Winnik and a seventh-round pick in the 2013 draft.
McGinn didn't make it to the Mile High City in time to play Monday night. The 23-year-old did take a tiny hop back in the standings, though, with the Avs trailing the Sharks by a point.
The last trade the Avs pulled off ignited their stagnant offence. Downie has contributed two goals and five assists since coming over in the deal with Tampa Bay last Tuesday.
"He's a good player. He unnerves people," said Avs coach Joe Sacco, whose team is 4-0 since Downie came on board. "That's what I like about his game, he makes people nervous on the opposition."
Colorado also had Milan Hejduk back on the ice after he sat out Saturday's 4-3 win in Detroit with a groin injury.
Peter Mueller returned as well, perhaps even a little ahead of schedule. The Avs were planning to hold out Mueller another game, but he was pressed into action with Galiardi and Winnik heading out of town. Mueller was activated off injured reserve after sitting out six games with a torso ailment.
The Ducks didn't make any moves at the trade deadline, preferring to stick with the squad that's worked them back into contention. Boudreau said he's never seen a tighter bunch, especially because they've had to skate with a playoff-mentality since Jan. 1
Near the basement of the standings on New Year's Day, the Ducks have gone 17-5-4 since to work their way back into the post-season picture.
O'Reilly scored the decisive goal thanks to a bit of a lucky bounce. Gabriel Landeskog tried to corral a pass down low, only to have it bound away and straight to O'Reilly, who knocked it past Jonas Hiller.
"It's a huge goal for me," O'Reilly said. "I haven't been finding the net too well lately, been missing a lot of shots. To have a nice bounce like that is definitely great."
A few minutes later, Paul Stastny and Duchene were on a breakaway with only Cam Fowler between them. Fowler tried to slide across the ice to take away the passing lane, but Stastny hopped a pass over Fowler and straight to Duchene, who knocked it in for his first goal since Dec. 23.
Duchene just recently returned after missing 20 games with a knee injury.
"It felt darn good," Duchene said. "As soon as I whacked it, I knew it was going in."
NOTES: The prospects the Avs acquired Monday were Mike Connolly and Michael Sgarbossa. ... Avs D Stefan Elliott was wearing a helmet with a full cage after taking a puck to the face against Detroit and needing several stitches. ... Along with Downie, Landeskog and D Jan Hejda also had two assists for Colorado. ... Hiller made his 22nd straight start Monday, one away from the team record held by Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who's now with Colorado, and Guy Hebert.
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