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Avs Get Long-Awaited Rematch Tonight

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

ST. PAUL, Minn.—It feels like forever since the Colorado Avalanche last faced the Minnesota Wild.

After playing a seven-game playoff series last April and back-to-back contests to begin this season in October, the Avs and Wild haven't met in nearly four months.

The start of the year couldn't have gone any better for Minnesota, while the opposite is true for Colorado. The Wild won 5-0 on Oct. 9 and 3-0 in Denver on Oct. 11 in St. Paul to sweep the home-and-home series that kicked off the 2014-15 campaign.

The Avalanche hasn't forgotten how last season ended—losing Game 7 in overtime in the first round of the playoffs—and how this year started. The team will look get a little payback this evening at Xcel Energy Center (6 p.m. MT, TV: Altitude) in the third game of the season series.

"We want to take a win here tonight and then we'll forget about the start of the year," said Avs center Matt Duchene, who had to miss the first five games of last season's playoff series because of an injury.

"We don't want a repeat of the first game of the season, and we need two points here tonight."

A lot has changed since the opening nights in Minnesota and Colorado, as both clubs find themselves knee deep in a race for a spot in this year's postseason. The Avs have 55 points, four shy of a wild card spot. The Wild sit one position behind in the standings, tied with Dallas and Los Angeles with 54 points, while also having two games in hand over the Avalanche.

A win against a division rival would not only go a long way in helping Colorado in its continual climb in the standings, but also show that the Avs can beat a team that has won six of the last seven meetings (playoffs and regular season).

"We want to prove that we can play with these guys. We can play in this building," said veteran winger Daniel Briere. "We have to find a way to win, and that is what is on our mind right now. We want to prove that if we face them ever again in the playoffs or in a big game, like it is tonight, we prove it to ourselves that we can win."

Both teams have had their ups and downs since they last squared off, but now meet at similar times in their seasons. Both have been playing better hockey recently and are getting great goaltending, keeping them in the fight for a Western Conference playoff spot.

Colorado is 3-1-1 in its last 16 games and 12-6-3 in its last 21. Goalie Semyon Varlamov has played in 16 of the last 17 contests, posting a 9-5-2 record with a 2.10 goals-against average and .943 save percentage.

"We didn't have a good start, but I really feel in our last 20-25 games we have played better hockey," said head coach Patrick Roy. "Five-on-five, we feel that our O-zone and neutral-zone forecheck are a lot better. Our D-zone coverage is a lot better, too. Knock on wood, we have been cutting down on shots on net, and I think that helps us."

Meanwhile, Minnesota has won four straight games and is 6-1-1 in its last seven. Netminder Devan Dubnyk has played in each of those contests, which included him posting three shutouts. He was acquired in a Jan. 14 trade with Arizona.

While Dubnyk's presence has boosted the Wild, Colorado's rival still plays its same type of game.

"We know what to expect," Duchene said. "They play hard. It's always a grinding game, especially in here. We've got to be ready."

Having been months since they last met, the Avalanche and Wild will get accustomed to each other again in the coming weeks. They will play three times in the next 30 days with games on Feb. 28 in Denver and March 8 in St. Paul.

With how the season has gone so far for both clubs, each matchup in the next four weeks will likely just get bigger and more intense.

Sounds like fun.

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