FLYERS (20-16-4) at AVALANCHE (24-11-4)
TV: CSN-PH, ALT
Last 10: Philadelphia 7-2-1; Colorado 4-2-4
Season series: It’s the first of two games between the Philadelphia Flyers and Colorado Avalanche. Their game Thursday marks their first since Dec. 19, 2011, when the Avalanche won 3-2 in a shootout at Pepsi Center.
Big story: The Flyers swept the first three games of their six-game road trip and will look to carry that strong play into their first game in Denver in more than two years.
The Avalanche ended 2013 a lot better than they started it. In lockout-delayed 2012-13 season, they went 16-25-7, and their 39 points were the fewest in the Western Conference. In 39 games played in the 2013 portion of the 2013-14 season, they’re 24-11-4 and their 52 points are seventh in the conference.
Flyers: The Flyers’ last game before the Christmas break was a 4-1 win against the Minnesota Wild, their eighth victory in a row at home. Scott Hartnell was one of many who said after the win against Minnesota that their six-game road trip, which started immediately after the three-day break, would be a pivotal point in their season.
“We’ve got to take this show on the road,” he said. “You can’t be homers and expect to make the playoffs and take the next step, so we got to take what we do here at home and put it on the road.”
So far, they’ve done just that, sweeping the first three games of their trip with wins against the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames. They’ve won four straight for the first time this season.
“I think our team’s real confident right now,” coach Craig Berube said following a 4-1 win in Calgary on Tuesday. “I think they believe they can win games whether you have your best stuff or not. Like in Vancouver [a 4-3 shootout win Monday], we didn’t have our stuff, but we still won. They’re finding ways to win. They’re a confident team right now.”
Avalanche: The Avalanche finished the 2013 portion of their schedule on a needed high with a 5-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday.
The win snapped a four-game winless skid (0-1-3).
It wasn’t the prettiest of wins -- the Avalanche were outshot 38-23 and trailed 2-1 midway through the second period. But Jamie McGinn and Ryan O’Reilly scored 2:38 apart to turn that deficit into a 3-2 lead, and despite the Blue Jackets getting back within 4-3 midway through the third, Colorado got a back-breaking power-play goal from Nathan MacKinnon to seal the win.
“We didn’t have our legs at the start of the game and didn’t have the start that we expected,” coach Patrick Roy said. “But I’ll give credit to them. They played well. But the sign of a good team is finding a way to win hockey games, and that’s what we did. We had another outstanding performance from our goalie (Semyon Varlamov, who had 35 saves) ... and I thought our power play was sharp.”
Who's hot: Flyers captain Claude Giroux had his career-best nine-game point streak snapped Tuesday, but he has six goals and 11 assists his past 10 games. ... Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog has three goals and two assists in his current four-game point-scoring streak.
Injury report: Flyers defenseman Erik Gustafsson (knee) is out. Forward Matt Read (upper body) and defenseman Nicklas Grossmann (lacerated chin) are questionable. ... Avalanche forwards Alex Tanguay (hip/knee) and PA Parenteau (knee) are on injured reserve.
Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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