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Morning Skate Report: April 15

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

At this time of the season a year ago, the Colorado Avalanche was on the verge of the playoffs before the Columbus Blue Jackets spoiled the party with two wins against them in the final weeks.

The tables have been turned this year as Colorado will be looking to prevent Columbus from making the postseason for the second time in its franchise’s history.

Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco said him and the players that were on last year’s squad remember those games against the Jackets and that they can use it as motivation for tonight’s matchup at Pepsi Center (7 p.m., Altitude 2),

“I remember last year playing these guys, they beat us twice down the stretch,” Sacco said of Columbus. “They really put a damper on our playoff hopes last season. We have an opportunity tonight to play a team that is playing very well and that is just on the outside looking in of the playoffs. Hopefully tonight we can do a little bit of damage to their playoff hopes.”

The Blue Jackets are currently in 10th in the Western Conference with 45 points, but they are on a three-game win streak and trail eighth-place Detroit by just two points. Tonight’s game will be the second of a six-game road trip for Columbus, who won 3-2 in a shootout on Saturday in Minnesota.

Like the Blue Jackets, the Avalanche has also found ways to pick up points recently as the club is 2-0-1 in its last three games. On Saturday against Vancouver, Colorado came back twice in the third period and scored the go-ahead goal with less than eight seconds left for a 4-3 win.

Sacco said the team had success in the final period against the Canucks because they limited the amount of giveaways, which in-turn sped up the game – a strength for his club.

“I thought against Vancouver in the third period, we really looked like a fast team because we didn’t turn the puck over,” Sacco said. “We made their defense go back, turn, get pucks and we were on top of them quickly. For us its about managing the puck, using our speed and don’t turn it over.”

There is only one lineup change for the Avs tonight, as Chuck Kobasew will replace Mark Olver on the fourth line. Kobasew has missed the last eight games with a back injury, which he suffered after sliding into the net during the March 30 game against Nashville.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere will make his fifth-straight appearance in goal for the Avs, while the defense will stay unchanged with Erik Johnson missing his second-straight game with a hand injury.

Avalanche Spotlight On: Tyson Barrie

After a slow start, rookie defenseman Tyson Barrie has seemed to find his offensive game.

Barrie has three assists over the last four games and was a big reason why Colorado defeated Vancouver on Saturday afternoon.

Tyson Barrie
Defense - COL
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 11
SOG: 42 | +/-: -7
In the final seconds, he kept a bouncing puck in the Canucks zone and passed it to David Jones, who then swung it up to Jan Hejda for a one-timer. The ensuing shot ended up in the back of the net to give the Avs a lead with less than eight seconds remaining.

The Victoria, British Columbia native leads all Colorado defenseman in goals (2), assists (9-tied) and points (11). He has five of his points in the 11 games since being recalled from the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League on March 25.

More Morning Notes

- Goaltender Semyon Varlamov is just about recovered from a hip injury, which has forced him to miss the last three games. His return to the net may be in the near future, as he will backup Giguere this evening.

- With Varlamov coming back, Colorado announced earlier today that they have reassigned goalie Sami Aittokallio to Lake Erie. Aittokallio started in last Thursday’s contest against Los Angeles. He made 23 saves before leaving in the third period because of leg cramps from being dehydrated.

- Right wing Milan Hejduk is day-to-day with a shoulder injury and will miss his sixth straight game.

- The Avalanche and the Blue Jackets are meeting for the third and final time this season. Colorado is 1-0-1 versus Columbus this year, 1-0-0 at home and 0-0-1 on the road. All-time, the Avs are 33-10-1-2 against the Blue Jackets, the franchise's best points percentage (.750%) versus any opponent. The Avs are 18-5-0 all-time at home against the Blue Jackets and 15-5-1-2 on the road. Colorado has gone 10-3-1 versus Columbus since the start of the 2009-10 campaign.

- Tonight will be the final meeting as conference opponents as Columbus will be moving to the Eastern Conference beginning next season.

- Colorado is on a four-game homestand – which features visits from Vancouver, Columbus, Edmonton and St. Louis – matching Colorado's longest stay of the season (also Feb. 2-11).

Probable Lines

Mitchell/Malone – Duchene – Parenteau
Landeskog – O’Reilly – McLeod
McGinn – Stastny – Jones
Bordeleau – Malone/Mitchell – Kobasew

Hejda – Elliott
Zanon – Barrie
O’Brien – Hunwick


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