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Rivalry Building in Avalanche versus Blues

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche only sees the Detroit Red Wings twice a season now that Detroit is in the Eastern Conference. Old Northwest Division foes Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton are now playing in the Pacific Division, leaving only three meetings a season against Colorado.

So who are the Avalanche's new hated foes?

New Central Division rivalries are being built with Minnesota after last year's playoff series and with Chicago with the similar high-tempo game the Blackhawks play, but the St. Louis Blues might be the closest team to having a full-fledged rivalry with Colorado.

The animosity between the Avs and Blues has been building for a couple of seasons now as Colorado had won eight straight contests at Pepsi Center against St. Louis before last season, where the first three meetings between the new divisional foes were fast-paced, intense, and all won by the Blues.

But each meeting saw the Avalanche fine-tune its game more and more, and the series culminated with the Avs' 4-0 victory in Missouri on April 5. The shutout win was part of a stretch where Colorado went 8-2-1 and was the beginning of a six-game losing streak to close out the season by the Blues.

Colorado went on to win the Central Division with 112 points, one point more than St. Louis.

The Avalanche takes on the Blues this evening for the first time at Pepsi Center this season, and the first of three meetings between the clubs in the month of December. Colorado and St. Louis play each other three times in the next 17 days, which includes another meeting at Pepsi Center on Dec. 23 in the Avs' next home game after their upcoming East Coast road trip.

"We know what type of game we're going to get," said Avs center Matt Duchene of the Blues. "They play really physical and it's a grinding-type game. If we push the pace with our speed, that is usually when we are successful against them."

Throw in a couple of former Avs that are currently on the Blues roster (Paul Stastny, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brian Elliott and Joakim Lindstrom) and this could be a strong rivalry by the time the calendar turns to 2015.

"It's fun. It started early last year," said second-year player and Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon. "We had a couple of good games. We came out on the short end of the stick a few times, but they were very heated and tonight should be no different."

Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said after morning skate that his team seems to have more energy and confidence since its pregame practice prior to Thursday's 3-2 shootout victory against the Jets, but the key right now for the Avs is to start stringing some wins together to get back into the playoff race.

A win against a budding rival would definitely help.

"If we beat a team like this it brings some confidence to the group," MacKinnon said. "They're [near the] top in the Central right now, and it's going to be a good test."

The Blues won 3-2 in a shootout in the teams' first meeting on Nov. 21 in St. Louis, but the Avs battled back in that contest and quickly erased a two-goal deficit early in the third period before getting several other good scoring chances prior to the end of regulation.

"This is a good test for our team," Roy said. "I thought we played well in the game we played in St. Louis. They were missing key players, but at the same time we played well. We were down two goals, and we came back in the game.

"Tonight, we need a good start. We should be a confident group. We had a really good game against Winnipeg. We just need to remain even-keel. That has been the message the last two days: even-keel, not too high, not too low, just go out there and try and win a hockey game."

Game time is set for 8 p.m. MT. It will be televised locally on Altitude TV and nationally on the NHL Network.

CLICHE RETURNS, LINES MOSTLY REMAIN THE SAME

Marc-Andre Cliche will return to the lineup tonight after missing the past five games with an oblique injury. He will also return to his normal spot as the fourth-line center; he'll be between wingers and rookies Dennis Everberg and Borna Rendulic this evening.

Cliche

"I feel great," Cliche said after morning skate. "We took our time. The [trainers] in there did a great job. I feel ready to go tonight."

The third line of Cody McLeod, Maxime Talbot and Daniel Briere will remain unchanged, while Roy will go with the top six from the end of the Winnipeg game. Jarome Iginla will be paired with Alex Tanguay and Matt Duchene, while Ryan O'Reilly will be on a line with Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon.

Colorado will also get some healthy bodies back for the upcoming road trip through Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Detroit next week. Roy said he is confident that Patrick Bordeleau (back surgery), John Mitchell (leg) and Brad Stuart (hamstring) will play at some point on the trip.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Alex TanguayMatt DucheneJarome Iginla
Gabriel Landeskog
Nathan MacKinnonRyan O'Reilly
Cody McLeod
Maxime TalbotDaniel Briere
Dennis Everberg
Marc-Andre ClicheBorna Rendulic

Jan HejdaErik Johnson
Nate Guenin
Tyson Barrie
Nick Holden
Zach Redmond

Calvin Pickard
Reto Berra

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