The Colorado Avalanche visits the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at United Center to open a back-to-back set against Central Division rivals. The Avs will play at the Nashville Predators on Saturday.
Tonight's matchup is the third meeting of the season between the clubs and the first time the Avs have traveled to the Windy City in 2018-19. Colorado is 0-1-1 against Chicago this year, falling 2-1 on Dec. 21 at Pepsi Center and 3-2 in overtime on Dec. 29 in Denver.
The squads have five head-to-head outings scheduled this year and they will close out the season series with a back-to-back, home-and-home set on March 23-24.
The Avs and Blackhawks are tied in the standings with the Arizona Coyotes at 61 points each and trail the Minnesota Wild for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference by one point, although Colorado has played one fewer game than those three teams.
"It is a big game for sure, and they are only going to get bigger as this goes on because of how tight it is and because of how many teams are involved," head coach Jared Bednar said. "If you look at the standings right now, Minny won last night and Chicago and us are battling right there, so this is a big two points and could be a four-point game that matters at the end of this thing.
"It does have a little bit of a playoff atmosphere, it is going to be a lot of fun. I think our guys are excited for it, I am sure their guys are excited for it. Great building, great atmosphere here, so this is the type of game that you want to be a part of it and that you want to get excited about."
Colorado has won two straight games and three of its last four. The team has picked up points in six of the team's last eight contests (3-2-3).
The Avs are coming off a 7-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday. Carl Soderberg and Tyson Jost each had a tally and two assists in that outing as seven different players scored, including A.J. Greer's first marker in the NHL. Semyon Varlamov made 26 saves in the win.
It was the third time Colorado has scored seven goals this season. In the team's past four games, the Avs has outscored their opposition 14-5.
"I think our team has been in a real good place here the last week or more," Bednar added. "The way we have been working, the way we have been competing and our attention to detail in our game is starting to come around. I think this is going to be a good test for us it is going to be a fun game and a fun game to coach too, so I am looking forward to it."
Varlamov is expected to be between the pipes for Colorado this evening for the ninth consecutive game. He is 3-1-0 with a 1.01 goals-against average and .968 save percentage over his last four starts.
Below is the Avalanche's projected lineup based on the forward combinations and defensive pairings from Wednesday's game against Winnipeg. They are subject to change.
13 Alexander Kerfoot - 29 Nathan MacKinnon - 10 Sven Andrighetto
83 Matt Nieto - 34 Carl Soderberg - 96 Mikko Rantanen
92 Gabriel Landeskog - 17 Tyson Jost - 11 Matt Calvert
24 A.J. Greer - 26 Andrew Agozzino - 37 J.T. Compher
49 Samuel Girard - 6 Erik Johnson
27 Ryan Graves - 4 Tyson Barrie
12 Patrik Nemeth - 16 Nikita Zadorov
1 Semyon Varlamov
31 Philipp Grubauer
Healthy Scratches: 44 Mark Barberio, 57 Gabriel Bourque
Injury Report: 22 Colin Wilson (upper body), 28 Ian Cole (upper body), 91 Vladislav Kamenev (shoulder)