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BLACKHAWKS (3-1-1) at AVALANCHE (5-1-0)
TV: CSN-CHICAGO (HS), ALTITUDE (HD)
Season Series: This is the first of four meetings between the two Western Conference foes, who will meet again in Chicago on Saturday night in the second half of the home-and-home series. The Avalanche won three of the four meetings last season and put up 15 goals in those games. The Hawks' lone win in a 4-0 shutout in the last game.
Big Story: While the thought of last season's struggles against the Avs weigh slightly on the minds of some Hawks, the goal will be to continue playing solid hockey, as the team has amassed seven of a possible 10 points thus far. Meanwhile, the Avs aim to prove their 5-1-0 start to the new season is no fluke, and what better way to do that than to do so against the club many feel can return to the Stanley Cup Final?
Blackhawks: Since losing to the Dallas Stars on opening night, the Hawks have not dropped a game in regulation, going 3-0-1 in that span. In their most recent game, against the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday night, the Blackhawks demonstrated why they figure to be one of the Western Conference's most dominant clubs. Chicago relied on a balanced attack to lead the way in a 5-2 win, with three players earning two points. The Hawks outshot Phoenix 35-16, giving goaltender Corey Crawford an easy night. As impressive as the balance was, the ability to play opportunistic hockey resonated most with coach Joel Quenneville, who pointed to a shorthanded tally as the reason for the win. Dave Bolland, the goal-getter, agreed.
"It's a huge advantage when you score on the (penalty kill)," he said. "It gets the guys going, gets everybody going on the bench there."
Avalanche: The Avs won just three times in their last 13 road games last season on the way to a second-half collapse. This season has been completely different. After dropping a 3-0 decision to the Detroit Red Wings at home on opening night, the Avs went on the road and won all five games, capping the sweep with a 3-2 overtime win at Toronto on Monday. The Avs scored just once in their first two games, but have averaged over four goals per game since. But perhaps the biggest catalyst for their success thus far has been the play of 23-year-old goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who was brought in this offseason to be the No. 1 goaltender. Coach Joe Sacco believed confidence has been the key to Varlamov's solid start, which includes a 3-1-0 record.
"He's a quietly confident type of kid," he said. "He doesn't get rattled easily. He's very confident in his abilities."
Who's Hot: David Jones, who got the OT winner in Toronto, leads Colorado with four goals. Bolland tops the Hawks with four.
Injury Report: Forward Peter Mueller, who missed all of last season with a concussion, has yet to play this season due to an undisclosed injury. He took part in all of Wednesday's practice, but coach Joe Sacco said he won't play Thursday. Forward Brandon Yip is still sidelined with a broken forearm. … The Blackhawks skate into Colorado with a healthy roster.
Stat Pack: Despite being blanked in their opener, the Avs are tops in the Western Conference and second overall to Pittsburgh with 20 goals scored. … Colorado has won four of the last five meetings with the Hawks at the Pepsi Center. … The Avs' 5-0-0 road swing was the best in franchise history for a trip of five games or more.
Puck Drop: While understandably delighted by his team's play on the trip, Sacco isn't singing hosannas to his team just yet.
"Good start to the year for us, but now we have to move ahead here," he Sacco. "We don't want to put it behind us -- we want to reflect on the things that we did well, the positive things and carry them over here moving forward, but we have to look at our opponent Thursday night."