BLUE JACKETS (18-38-7) at AVALANCHE (33-27-4)
TV: FS-Ohio (HD), ALTITUDE (HD)
Last 10: Columbus 3-6-1; Colorado 7-2-1
Season Series: The Avalanche won the first two games of the season series, including 5-0 on Feb. 24. Both games took place in Columbus. These teams will play again in Denver on April 5.
Big Story: The Avs are in the hunt for a playoff berth and realize how important it is to get wins over teams below them in the standings like the Blue Jackets, who are below everyone in the standings. Colorado has won four straight games to put itself in position to compete for a playoff berth heading into March.
Blue Jackets: This team is giving a new definition to playing out the string. The Blue Jackets have been out of the race pretty much all season and they've been mathematically eliminated for a while. They have lost three in a row and five of their last six games.
But they're finally coming out of the fog that was heavy over this team during the Rick Nash saga, and maybe that helps them play some better hockey despite the fact that Antoine Vermette, Jeff Carter, Samuel Pahlsson and Grant Clitsome are all playing in different cities now.
"Seeing other teams smiling, seeing other teams in pretty good playoff position, makes me mad," center Derek MacKenzie told the Columbus Dispatch. "It makes you feel like what you've done here isn't good enough. We know that April 7 is going to be our last day and that's a crappy feeling. But if we can channel that into something positive that is going to be our biggest asset."
Avalanche: The push in Colorado is most definitely on and the Avalanche have been answering the bell. They've won four in a row, including Monday's 4-1 win over Anaheim.
Ryan O'Reilly is red hot. Semyon Varlamov is playing well. Steve Downie has 7 points since he arrived from Tampa Bay in a trade last week. Peter Mueller and Milan Hejduk returned to the lineup Tuesday, when Matt Duchene scored his first goal since before Christmas.
Sure, wingers TJ Galiardi and Daniel Winnik are now in San Jose, but in their place the Avs got Jamie McGinn, who had 12 goals for the Sharks. McGinn will make his season debut for the Avs on Thursday.
"I see a lot of potential when I look at the lineup. I'm excited because it seems like Colorado really wants me," McGinn told the Denver Post. "I have to use my speed and be a physical force out there, and help put the puck in the net."
Who's Hot: Downie has been excellent since the trade from Tampa Bay. He has 2 goals and 5 assists along with a plus-7 rating in four games. The Avs are 4-0. Colorado's leading scorer, Ryan O'Reilly, has 6 points in the last four games. Paul Stastny scored twice in Monday's win over Anaheim.
Injury Report: For the Avalanche, Ryan O'Byrne is out with a knee injury and Chuck Kobasew suffered an injury in practice Wednesday. His status is uncertain. … For the Blue Jackets, Jared Boll is out with a broken right foot.
Stat Pack: Colorado has outscored the opposition 17-5 during its four-game winning streak. … Varlamov has stopped 87 of 89 shots in his last three starts since giving up five goals in a loss at Winnipeg on Feb. 19. He is two wins away from 20 for the first time in his career. … On the flip side, Columbus has given up 14 goals in its last three games and 26 over its last six.
Puck Drop: "He unnerves people," Avs coach Joe Sacco said of Downie. "That's what I like about his game; he makes people nervous on the opposition."