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Rink Notes: Tucker Available Thursday

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche’s season could swing many different ways in the coming weeks, but Colorado isn’t the only club in that boat.

With the NHL’s stretch run at full throttle, no team in the league has either clinched a postseason berth or been eliminated from playoff contention at this point, mathematically speaking.

Sure, some of the NHL’s elite teams (Washington, Pittsburgh, San Jose and Chicago) have all but guaranteed their spots in the playoffs. And a handful of other clubs (Edmonton and Toronto, to name two) are essentially assured of closing up shop in mid-April.

Still, the fact remains that nothing is set in stone yet for any NHL team.

That includes the Avalanche, which officially has less than one-fifth of its regular season schedule left to play following last night’s contest against Vancouver.

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Tuesday’s game was number 66 on the team’s 82-game slate and left the Avs stuck on 80 points – a number that places them four points behind the Northwest Division leading Canucks (84 points) and six points ahead of ninth-place Detroit (74 points) in the Western Conference standings. The Red Wings dropped out of the No. 8 spot last night after being defeated by the Calgary Flames, 4-2.

“Basically, that’s what post-lockout hockey is about,” said Milan Hejduk. “They wanted the talent spread around the league and to have more teams be competitive, and I think that’s what they got.”

That competitive balance – having so many teams still in the running so late in the season – can only be looked at as a positive for the game of hockey.

“Most teams are battling for the playoffs right now. It’s good for the fans that pretty much every team is still in it and fighting for a spot,” added Hejduk.

The Avalanche’s remaining 16 games will be split evenly, with eight coming at Pepsi Center and the other eight on the road.

Next Up: Florida
The Florida Panthers are one of three Eastern Conference teams the Avalanche faces twice this year, with their previous matchup ending in a 6-5 shootout victory by Florida on Dec. 2.

Avalanche fans may best remember that contest for a scary on-ice incident in overtime. Craig Anderson, playing his former team for the first time, was bowled over by Florida defenseman Keith Ballard with less than a minute remaining in the extra session, knocking the netminder out of the game and causing him to miss the Avalanche’s next four contests with a neck injury.

Thursday’s contest against Florida will be Colorado’s final inter-conference game this season. The Avs have posted a solid record against Eastern Conference clubs this season, going 11-5-1.

Anderson will once again start against his former team, extending his streak to 22 consecutive games.

Injury Updates
After missing Tuesday’s game with an illness, Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco said forward Darcy Tucker will be available tomorrow versus Florida. Tucker was at Family Sports Center this morning and took part in the team’s practice.

In an encouraging sign, defenseman Ruslan Salei skated by himself prior to practice. The blueliner suffered a torso injury Saturday against St. Louis and missed the Avalanche’s game against the Canucks. Prior to the Vancouver game, Sacco said that Salei’s injury was of the short-term nature, estimating that it would probably only keep him sidelined for “a week or so.”
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