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Varlamov "100 Percent," To Start Against Devils

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

After having his 22-game consecutive-start streak end on Tuesday night, goaltender Semyon Varlamov will be back in the blue paint for the Colorado Avalanche's game this evening against the New Jersey Devils.

"He said he is 100 percent," Avs head coach Patrick Roy said of his goalie, who left in the team's victory on Sunday against the Minnesota Wild with 5:44 remaining because of a minor groin injury.

Colorado didn't hold any formal pregame practice this morning, but all three netiminders on the team's active roster were on the ice, as well as Erik Johnson (knee), Joey Hishon (elbow/neck) and Patrick Bordeleau (knee), all of who are recovering from injuries.

Varlamov, Reto Berra and Calvin Pickard went through drills with goaltending coach Francois Allaire, while the rest of the team was in meetings in preparation for the night's contest against the Eastern Conference Devils.

Roy had previously said Varlamov, who skated before Tuesday's morning skate against Los Angeles but had Wednesday's practice off to help with his recovery, would skate on Thursday before determining if he would play versus New Jersey.

"I have no doubt that it is going to go well," Roy said this morning at his pregame press conference at Pepsi Center. "The reason why he is playing is because he's 100 percent. If he were 90 percent, he would not play. He is 100 percent. That is the reason why we are playing him."

Varlamov has been out of the Avs lineup for a total of 16 games this season with various groin injuries, but had been fairly healthy since his previous absence on Dec. 21 at Detroit. In the 34 games since, the Samara, Russia native has played in 31 of them, including the 22 straight that fell one short of tying Craig Anderson's record for the most consecutive starts by an Avalanche goalie.

The Colorado keeper had been particularly good lately as he was named the NHL's Second Star of the Week for March 2-8. In three games last week, Varlamov went 3-0-0 with a 0.69 goals-against average, .981 save percentage and one shutout, which came in a 44-stop performance last Saturday at Columbus.

"It's always calming when you have Varly back there. He gives you a chance every night," said defenseman Tyson Barrie. "I think he's the MVP of this team every night. It's tough on us when he goes out, but it gives other guys a chance to step up."

Pickard, who had a 2.18 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 15 NHL contests and was recalled from Lake Erie on an emergency basis on Monday, started the game on Tuesday against the Kings. Berra relieved him late in the first period after L.A. took a 3-1 lead.

Roy said Berra would backup Varlamov tonight because of Pickard's emergency-recall status. He stated that since Varlamov is healthy, Pickard is not eligible to dress, and that the team would make a decision on if it would reassign him to Lake Erie after the game.

Before Roy announced that Varlamov was playing, forward Matt Duchene told reporters that the team had confidence in any of the three netminders on the Avs' current roster, and that the skaters would need to hold up their end.

"Varly is a big piece to our puzzle. I'm not going to say that it doesn't effect us having him out, because it does, but we have two guys with Reto and Picks who are great goaltenders, guys that work real hard and get the job done also," Duchene said. "We have confidence with them in net.

"Yeah, we have injuries. Yeah, our top goalie, our starter is hurt, but there is no time for excuses or loss of confidence. We have to be at our best all the time."

The Avs' three-game winning streak came to an end against the Kings on Tuesday, but with Winnipeg's loss that night as well, the team is still just seven points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference playoff race.

Victories tonight against New Jersey and Saturday against Calgary, another team fighting for a postseason spot, could go a long way in helping Colorado cut down that gap.

BARRIE, LANDESKOG LOOK TO STAY HOT

Left wing Gabriel Landeskog and defenseman Tyson Barrie will look to keep rolling offensively tonight against New Jersey.

Barrie

Barrie scored his 11th goal of the season Tuesday against the Kings, giving him 12 points (four goals and eight assists) in his last nine games, while Landeskog assisted on the tally, extending his point streak to four outings (three goals and four assists).

After recording 13 goals and 25 assists for 38 points last season, Barrie hasn't missed a beat in his second full NHL campaign. He has 44 points (11 goals and 33 assists) this year, becoming the first Avalanche blueliner to reach the 40-point mark since John-Michael Liles (46) in 2010-11.

"I've just tried to be consistent, bring some offense from the back end," Barrie said. "We've had trouble scoring at times this season. I've just been trying to be consistent back there and jump up in the play and help the forwards out."

Landeskog

After a quiet first half of the year, Landeskog has found his offensive touch. He has 16 points in his last 13 games, and leads the team in scoring with 47 points (19 goals and 28 assists) while ranking second in goals behind Jarome Iginla (21).

Matt Duchene said Landeskog and Barrie's recent stretch is reassuring to other players to stay with the process.

"It seems like everything they touch right now is going in the net. It gives you confidence as a team when you see guys going through that," said Duchene, who has 17 goals this year but has only scored once in the last seven games. "For a guy like me, it makes you want to get into a rhythm like that.

"They are setting the bar for production, and you want to jump in there and be part of it. It is a great thing to have when you have guys pushing yourself and if you're pushing others, that is what makes a good team."

HISHON CLOSE TO RETURNING

Avalanche forward Joey Hishon will miss his third consecutive game with an elbow injury, but head coach Patrick Roy said he would be back in the lineup in the near future.

Roy said Hishon could play on Saturday against Calgary or next Thursday in Arizona. He hurt his elbow in Saturday's game against Columbus.

Hishon skated this morning for the third straight day with a red non-contact jersey, and was joined on the ice with fellow injured skaters Patrick Bordeleau and Erik Johnson, as well as the team's three goalies.

Colorado's 2010 first-round draft pick has played in two games this season, which included his NHL regular-season debut on March 4 against Pittsburgh.

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