After having a four-day break, a little rust could be expected. Now the Colorado Avalanche’s biggest enemy might be heavy legs.
Despite trailing 1-0 early, the Avalanche quickly rebounded to pick up a 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night and will have to find that same jump as it faces the leaders of the Pacific Division tonight. Colorado takes on the rested and ready Anaheim Ducks tonight in Southern California as it completes the back-to-back portion of the current road trip.
“We came out and played pretty well. We were a little sluggish the first five or 10 minutes, but I thought we did a good job of maintaining our composure and were able to get a couple of quick goals,” said defenseman Brad Stuart after the game against the Coyotes. “We did a good job of holding on to it. They made a push late, but we were able to hold them off and get the win.”
Colorado will need to play the same way against a Ducks team that is comfortably in the playoff picture and is fighting for the top seed in the Western Conference and a chance at the Presidents’ Trophy.
And the Avs will have to do it while playing in the second game of their 10th back-to-back of the season.
“They are a good team, but at this point of the year there are no excuses,” Matt Duchene said of the Ducks. “We’ll get ready. It’s nice playing at sea level, that’s for sure. It helps us out a bit.”
The Avalanche is in its final 12 games of the season, but it wants to play beyond Game 82 and make its second straight playoff appearance.
According to Duchene, this is the time of year when a player’s offseason training pays off.
“I think just preparation in the summer takes you into this,” said the Avs center, who tallied his 18th of the year last night. “We have played lots of these during the year so we’re ready for it.”
Colorado has won three games in a row, but it will have its hands full if it wants to win a season-high four straight. Anaheim not only has talented forwards led by Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, but also one of the better depth defenses in the league.
Stuart is familiar with the Ducks from his time spent skating with the Pacific Division-rival San Jose Sharks the past two seasons.
“They are a big, physical group up front. They have some pretty elite players up front. Pretty solid back end,” Stuart said. “You just have to be ready to compete with those guys on the front end, and make sure we test their ‘D.’ Get in behind them and not allow them to play a transition game where they can make plays on the rush. We have to make sure we cut those opportunities down.”
The Avalanche may have Joey Hishon back in the lineup after the rookie forward missed the last four games with an elbow injury.
Hishon seemed set to make his return on Thursday in Arizona, but his elbow didn’t feel strong enough on faceoffs during morning skate and he was held out of the contest. He has appeared in two games this season, with his most recent coming March 8 at Minnesota.
Semyon Varlamov will start in goal for the Avalanche for the 25th time in the last 26 contests. He is on a career-high six-game win streak (set twice before), posting a 1.17 goals-against average and .963 save percentage in that time. Varlamov made 28 saves last night against Arizona.
“Varly will play,” said head coach Patrick Roy. “I sat down with Varly after the game and he said he felt good. We’re just going to go with him. For us, they’re all Game 7… and we need him to play and he will play.”
Anaheim won 3-2 in the teams’ first meeting of the season on Nov. 2. Both clubs will meet again on April 3 at Honda Center. Tonight’s game begins at 8 p.m. MT.