DENVER - Avalanche coach Tony Granato isn't ready to hand over total control of the net to Andrew Raycroft just yet.
It's getting tougher to keep him out, though. Raycroft stopped a career-high 43 shots, including a late flurry, in Colorado's 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night. The backup goalie has won two straight since stepping in for the struggling Peter Budaj, running his record to 8-1 this season. Raycroft also has won six consecutive starts, tying a career high.
"He's done a great job," Granato said. "He's become what we expected. He's given us solid performances."
Raycroft credits a return to the basics for his sudden success. He was a mess last season, struggling with his form while with Toronto, going 2-9-5.
Now, he's a more decisive goalie.
"I've worked hard and developed a good base," Raycroft said. "That allows me to have a clear mind out there ... It's obvious that the more you play the more comfortable you feel out there."
Wojtek Wolski can attest to that. He's starting to get used to his new responsibilities at centre.
Wolski was moved to the middle after injuries to Joe Sakic (back/hand) and Paul Stastny (broken arm). Wolski knocked in a power-play goal with 6:59 remaining, his third goal in two games. He also had an assist.
"Whenever you do the little things right and pucks are going to the net, you get opportunities and you get the chances," Wolski explained. "I'm putting the effort forward."
Like crashing the net on his winner. After Nikolai Khabibulin stopped Ryan Smyth's shot, followed by a rebound chance from Milan Hejduk, Wolski was there on the spot to poke it in.
"I just put my stick in," Wolski said.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville wasn't too pleased about a puck drop that led to a chain of events, culminating with Wolski's power-play goal. Quenneville thought the puck was released too early, leading to Matt Walker's hooking call as he scrambled to catch up to the play.
"You can't justify that play they made to get the power play," he said. "That's totally unacceptable. That's a homer drop and I hadn't seen that in four years."
Chicago pulled Khabibulin with 1:20 remaining, but couldn't get anything past Raycroft.
"I think Raycroft has been playing pretty well lately," said Brian Campbell, who scored his seventh goal of the season in the second period. "I don't think we got as much traffic to the net ... (Colorado) played a disciplined game."
Smyth's goal in the first period was initially waived off, the referee ruling that Smyth kicked at the puck with his right skate.
However, video replay showed no distinctive kicking motion, and the goal was awarded to Smyth, the 297th of his career.
Quenneville lost for the first time this season against his former team. He's 2-1 since he was jettisoned in the off-season after leading the Avalanche to a 131-92-23 mark and two post-season appearances.
Chicago is 21-7-6 since Quenneville replaced Denis Savard on Oct. 16.
"We weren't sharp around their net," Quenneville said. "They were the harder working team."
Notes: The Avalanche were without Ian Laperriere (back) and Adam Foote (arm). ... Chicago F Patrick Kane returned after missing the last two games with a right ankle sprain. He had an assist, his 26th of the season. ... Khabibulin finished with 30 saves. ... Sakic underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk on Wednesday. If rehab goes as scheduled, the 39-year-old centre might be back for the final month of the season. ... Colorado hit the halfway point with a 21-19-1 record. It's the 12th time in 13 seasons since arriving in the Mile High City that the Avs have posted a winning record at the season's midpoint. ... Colorado has played in 24 one-goal games this season, tied with Carolina and Philadelphia for most in the league.