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Avalanche Begins Crucial Weekend At Stars

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche has already defeated the Dallas Stars four times this season, but getting a fifth win in the final regular-season meeting is crucial for the Avs during its stretch run.

The Avalanche begins the first half of a home-and-home set against Central Division clubs tonight at American Airlines Center in Texas before returning home to host the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night at Pepsi Center.

With 21 games remaining on the season, it is a 'must have' weekend for the Avs as the next two games gives them a chance to make up ground in their playoff push, and do it against division squads they are competing with for a spot.

"That is the mentality that we are approaching it with," Avs defenseman Nate Guenin said after the club's morning skate. "Two teams that are in the mix with us, and we feel that if we win these two games it gives us a good chance to get back in there."

Colorado and Dallas are tied in the Western Conference standings with 63 points, and both are chasing Minnesota, who currently holds the second wild-card card position with 71 points. The Wild has been one of the NHL's hottest teams in recent weeks, going 7-2-1 in its last 10 games and defeated the league-leading Nashville Predators 4-2 on Thursday.

When the Avs arrive home late Friday night, the Wild will already be there waiting.

"This is an important weekend," said Colorado head coach Patrick Roy. "If we want to have a sniff of making the playoffs, we have to be really sharp over the weekend. These are very important games, and games where we have to be at our best."

The team's first focus is on the Stars, a squad the Avalanche will look to sweep the season series with for the first time since moving to Denver. Colorado has gone 8-1-0 versus Dallas since the start of last season, and won 4-1 in the last meeting on Feb. 7 in Denver. The two clubs' only other contest in Texas this year came earlier this month when the Avs won 3-2 in an 11-round shootout on Feb. 3.

Despite Colorado's recent triumphs over its Central Division foe, Guenin said there isn't much to the record.

"We don't take them lightly," Guenin said of the Stars. "It's a division game so we know it's a test, and I think we really get amped up for those games. We want to take care of our division."

The Avs have won four of their last six games, and the power play has been a big part of the team's overall success in that time.

After a slow start and being in a big rut as late as two weeks ago, the Avalanche's power play might finally be turning around. The team has scored with the man advantage in three of its last five games, going 4-for-14 (28.6 percent) in man-advantage opportunities.

"It could not be a better time to see our power play clicking and scoring some goals on the power play, hurting the other team," Roy said. "At the same time, we have to continue to play well defensively."

Colorado's defense on special teams has also been solid, killing off 14 of its last 15 penalties.

The Avs are coming off a 5-2 loss on Tuesday at Nashville, but despite the defeat, the team has been playing better as of late.

Leading the charge in the Avalanche's recent surge has been many of its young scorers, some of whom are starting to find their offensive groove during an important stretch of the season.

Nathan MacKinnon has four goals in his last two games and eight points (four goals and four assists) in his last seven. Gabriel Landeskog has seven points (five goals, two assists) in his last seven contests, and Ryan O'Reilly is on a three-game assist streak and has six points in his last six outings (six assists). Also, Matt Duchene has eight points (three goals and five assists) in his last eight games as well.

"We like the way we have played the last six games, except for maybe Nashville where we thought we got outworked a bit. Overall, I like our last six games," Roy said. "I just feel we have been doing a lot of good things out there. Our forecheck is good. Our neutral-zone forecheck is good. Tracking is solid. Our D-zone coverage, F3, isn't bad. It's just a matter of clicking the right goal at the right time and have our power play continue to score goals, and that will help us.

"[Dallas] is a good test for us, and it will be important for us to be ready."


Semyon Varlamov will make his 18th consecutive start tonight in net for the Avalanche, tying Dan Bouchard for the fourth most in franchise history (Nov. 15-Dec. 27, 1983 with Quebec).

Varlamov is 8-7-2 with a 2.52 goal-against average and .913 save percentage during his 17-game starting streak, which is the second longest by a netminder since the Avalanche moved from Quebec to Colorado in 1995.

The longest streak by a goalie in an Avs uniform is 23 straight by Craig Anderson in 2009-10, while the franchise record is 26 consecutive starts by Quebec’s Ron Tugnutt in 1990-91.

Varlamov, who has also started 25 of the last 26 games, is 8-3-2 in 13 all-time appearances against the Stars.


- Daniel Briere is expected to return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the last six games. He last played Feb. 12 against the New York Rangers.

- With Briere in, Paul Carey will be the lone healthy scratch for the Avalanche as the team reassigned defenseman Stefan Elliot to Lake Erie on Wednesday. Carey is expected to play Saturday versus Minnesota.

-Defenseman Zach Redmond will also return to game action after being scratched Tuesday at the Predators.

- With 1,208 points, Jarome Iginla sits one shy of tying Bernie Nicholls for 44th on the NHL all-time scoring list and two short of tying Bobby Clarke for 43rd. Iginla is also two goals away from registering his 16th career 20-goal season. Only Jaromir Jagr (18) has more 20-goal campaigns among active players.

- Matt Duchene needs two games to reach 400 in his career while Alex Tanguay is three games away from reaching 1,000 NHL contests.

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