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Nieto Could Return Versus Detroit

The forward missed Wednesday's game with a knee injury

by Ryan Boulding @rboulding / ColoradoAvalanche.com

Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Nieto could be back in the lineup on Saturday as the Avs take on the Detroit Red Wings in the visiting club's last-ever game at Joe Louis Arena.

Nieto, acquired off waivers by the Avalanche on Jan. 5, missed Wednesday's contest with a minor knee injury that he said happened in Monday's match at the Arizona Coyotes.

"I went into the boards hard against Arizona there," he said following practice on Friday. "I was able to finish the game, but afterward [there were] after effects, swelling and all of that damage, tissue damage. The trainers did a good job of taking care of me, and I'm ready to go for tomorrow."

Nieto admitted that he tested his knee prior to Colorado facing the Red Wings on Wednesday, but he just didn't feel like he could compete.

Video: Nieto on returning to practice

"I tried skating the morning of the game against the Wings there but didn't feel good enough to go in that game," he said. "The extra day of rest definitely helped, and I'll be ready for tomorrow."

The 24-year-old native of Long Beach, California, took Thursday to heal and participated in a full practice on Friday.

"First time skating today since it happened, so I'm feeling good," Nieto said. "I think the couple days of rest did it good, and I'm feeling good." 

According to head coach Jared Bednar, Nieto's status will depend on what the team's medical staff has to say about his recovery.

"I haven't checked with the trainers after practice," said Bednar. "We'll see how he responds here over the next few hours, but he looked like he was feeling pretty good out there today."

 Video: Coach Bednar's post-practice press conference

After practice, the squad took off for Detroit and the club's final game in the storied barn that has housed the Red Wings since 1979. Nearly everyone on the roster has a memory of playing at The Joe, but the experience means more to Dearborn, Michigan, native Jeremy Smith.

"It's a pretty special arena. Growing up watching the Wings win back-to-back Stanley Cups there as a child, it was great," Smith said of the building. "It kind of reflects the city. There's so much character there. It's weathered the storm and everything, so yeah, it's pretty cool."

Everyone in hockey knows of the once-infamous rivalry between the club from Michigan and the one from Denver, whether they saw it unfold live or have heard and seen pieces of it since.

"Yeah there's quite the rivalry between the two teams," said Smith. "I remember [Patrick] Roy at center ice and the big melee and everything. There is no ill will, you know what I mean, when you're rooting for NHL teams. I think it fueled the fire between the two cities and really built what it is today. So yeah, I'm excited to be a part of it."

 Video: Smith on playing at Joe Louis Arena

Smith has had a chance to play at the rink before, both as a kid and in some NHL preseason contests.

"I think it's pretty cool. Like when you're younger, you see them skate on the ice and then you're able to skate out there. It just feels special you know what I mean. You look around and see all the red seats," he said. "It was pretty cool to go in there and wear an NHL sweater and play against the Wings… I know we won one of them and my family was there, so it was great." 

"It's a great arena, and I'm excited to go back."

Smith won't get the start for the Avs in his home state, however. While Bednar admitted he had thought about giving the 27-year-old the nod, the coach said that Calvin Pickard's recent play has earned him the right to begin the game between the pipes. 

"I did, but Pick did such a good job now in back-to-back games for me. I thought that his Arizona game, that was a good hard-fought game," Bednar said. "There were quite a few scoring chances each way. We didn't capitalize on ours, and I thought Pick did a great job, looked athletic in net. He kept us in that game because we were unable to score, and he gave us a chance. Then to come out the other night and kind of follow up his performance against the Wings. Now playing him again, I just feel like we have to go back with him."

The contest will also be Bednar's first and only one at Joe Louis Arena. 

"There's a lot of history to the rivalry. I think we saw a little taste of that in the stands the other night. There's a lot of red jerseys in our building, and both sets of fans are really engaged," he said. "It's going to be a fun game. It's back-to-back, so there's already a little bit of familiarity coming into this week. So I think it's going to be a good game."

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