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High Attendance At Optional Practice

Goaltender Jonathan Bernier and forward Vladislav Kamenev are close to returning to game action

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

CENTENNIAL, Colo.--The Colorado Avalanche held an optional practice on Saturday morning, but it looked more like a mandatory session with the number of players skating at Family Sports Center.

It was nearly full attendance on the ice as 23 of the 28 players currently on the Avs roster did some kind of skate before the voluntary session or took part in the drills run by the assistant coaches. The skate was the only chance the Avalanche will have to do any on-ice work prior to its Sunday afternoon game versus the Nashville Predators.

"Everybody likes coming to the rink and going on the ice, and that's what is fun about this team," said Colorado forward Tyson Jost. "We have fun every time we're going out there. We're competing, and we have that energy. It's fun to play with. We just have to bring that to the game tomorrow. At the same time, we're very focused because we know what is at stake right now."

The Avalanche has won three games in a row and will look to extend the streak when it hosts the Western Conference-leading Nashville Predators at Pepsi Center. Colorado is 4-1-1 in its last six outings and defeated the Minnesota Wild 7-1 on Friday to move within one point of a playoff spot.

"We have a strong belief system in our locker room right now that we can put together those wins," Jost said. "We just have to keep that up. There are more big games to come, and we need more performances like we had last night."

Video: Tyson Jost after practice

Semyon Varlamov is expected to make his eighth straight start in net for the Avs, while fellow goaltender Jonathan Bernier appears close to returning from a head injury after being a full participant in the practice.

Bernier has been out of the lineup since suffering a concussion on Feb. 16 at the Winnipeg Jets.

"I feel good, no issue," Bernier said after the skate. "Now it's just a point of getting back in shape.

"You don't know how long (you're going to be out) with a concussion, and you can't really do much about it. You are just kind of hopeless, and you can't really workout as well. So it takes longer to comeback, but that's part of the business."

Bernier suffered the injury in the second period of that game in Winnipeg when his head got sandwiched between a Jets player and the goal post.

"He clipped me from the side and then I hit my head on the post, and I lost my helmet," he said. "It was one of those where my neck was really sore and I started feeling a little dizzy, but I just thought it was from the neck and tried to keep playing through it and I just couldn't by the end of the second."

Video: Bernier on returning from injury

Bernier will miss his eighth straight contest on Sunday, but head coach Jared Bednar said the goalie will be on the team's upcoming road trip that has stops on Tuesday in Chicago and Thursday in Columbus.

Fellow netminder Andrew Hammond also took the ice briefly before the practice as he tries to battle back from his own head injury, but he didn't stay for the formal session. Injured skaters Sven Andrighetto, Mart Barberio and Erik Johnson also skated on their own in red, non-contact jerseys, but Andrighetto was the only one that stayed for practice.

Forward Colin Wilson was among the handful of Avs that did skate after he left Friday night's contest with an upper-body injury.

"He's OK. He's going through concussion protocol," Bednar said. "He's feeling better this morning. It's a waiting game on him too now."

Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar after an optional practice

One player that returned to a normal practice sweater was forward Vladislav Kamenev, who has been out for three-and-a-half months with a broken arm. He was injured on one of his first shifts in his season debut with the Avalanche on Nov. 16 against the Washington Capitals.

While Kamenev, one of the pieces that Colorado received in the three-team trade with Nashville and the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 5, is close to returning to the lineup, his first game back might be in the American Hockey League with the San Antonio Rampage.

"Kamenev is close," Bednar said. "We may think about sending him [down] at some point here on a conditioning stint to get him a few games before we bring him back up."

The Predators have been the best team in the league recently, as they have won seven straight games and are 8-2-0 in their last 10. Each of Nashville's last three wins have come after it erased two-goal deficits, including picking up a 4-3 overtime victory at the Vancouver Canucks on Friday.

Jost said the Avs will have to defeat teams like Nashville down the stretch if they want to get to where they want to go, which is ultimately the playoffs.

"I wouldn't say it's a measuring stick game because we're right there with those teams and we have that belief in the locker room, but it's a huge two points up for grabs for us," Jost said. "Obviously Nashville is a very good team, and we have to beat those teams to have success down the road. We're excited for tomorrow."

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