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Avalanche Ready For A Cool Coors

by Rick Sadowski | NHL.com / Colorado Avalanche

It seemed fitting some Colorado Avalanche players wore eye black during their practice session Friday morning at Coors Field, where the Colorado Rockies will open their Major League Baseball season in April.

Skating on an outdoor rink under a bright sun and blue skies, the Avalanche got in their final preparation for the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports 2).

"First time for me," center Matt Duchene said of the black strips under his eyes. "It was fun out there. I definitely felt good out there and excited. I think we all felt like that. It's going to be fun tomorrow.

"I want to have fun. I think if you're having fun you'll perform your best. I had a blast out there today, played really loose, had fun, tried stuff. The more we're loose and don't feel tight, don't feel pressure, the better we're going to play. Just take in the moment. It's an important game, obviously, but the more we enjoy the moment, the better we're going to play."

The practice lasted about 30 minutes, not much shorter than usual, because the ice was getting soft.

"It was bad because of the sun, but tomorrow it should be great," Duchene said. "There were shady parts on the ice that were really good. You could tell the difference. As soon as you got in the sunlight it was pretty bad, but that's the Colorado sun. It's so hot, but as soon as it goes away it's going to be nice. It's going to be awesome. I think it's going to be so much fun tomorrow."

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy, who was ready to play in goal Friday for the alumni game against the Red Wings, said the ice should be just fine for the game Saturday.

"It's cooler at night, and during the course of the game it's going to be even cooler and the ice should be really nice," Roy said. "I was impressed. I think the NHL does a really good job with the ice. They work at it and Denver might not be the easiest conditions for them, but in the end they did a very good job."

As much as the Avalanche plan to enjoy the weekend experience and take in as much of the atmosphere as possible, the focus remains on winning and staying in the hunt for a place in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Since stumbling out of the All-Star break with an 0-3-1 homestand, the Avalanche (32-27-4) have won four of their past five games and five of seven. They have the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference with 19 regular-season games remaining.

"There's a lot of distraction, but at the same time, these are big points for us at this time of the year; it is important to remain focused," Roy said. "The guys were business this morning, we did a lot of drills in 30 minutes.

I thought our guys were sharp, they understand where they are in the standings. They are excited about it, but really want to focus on the game.

"Tomorrow will be a good test for us. [The Red Wings are] a very good hockey team and looking at the standings it certainly makes us aware that it's important to get these two points."

Goalie Semyon Varlamov will start for Colorado. He made 43 saves in the 3-2 shootout win against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on Feb. 12. The Avalanche were outshot 45-21 in that game and killed 4 of 5 penalties.

"We're going good now," said Duchene, who leads the Avalanche in scoring with 26 goals and 48 points in 63 games. "We were awful after the break. We won a few games we shouldn't even have won, but we managed to do it and we're in a good spot right now."

Right wing Jarome Iginla has an idea of what to expect Saturday. He played for the Calgary Flames in their 4-0 win against the Montreal Canadiens in the 2011 Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium in Calgary before a crowd of 41,022.

The weather conditions Saturday will be a lot more comfortable.

"It'll be warmer," said Iginla, who has five goals and seven assists in the past 10 games. "It was cold up in Calgary against Montreal, really cold. We had heated benches and it was still fun, still a really cool experience. It brings back memories of when you were younger.

"I'm sure there will be some great memories. Once the puck drops, it's game time, it's all about winning. At the same time, when you get on the bench and you get a little breather, it'll be pretty cool to look around and see the atmosphere and the crowd. It's going to be a pretty cool setting.".

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