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Well-Rested Avs Ready For Season's Homestretch

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

Rest can be a powerful weapon.

The Avalanche hopes that is the case for its final games of the regular season as the team returned to the ice Monday morning after having two full days away from the rink.

Colorado closed out a stretch of playing games nearly every other day with a 2-0 loss on Friday to the Boston Bruins, the hottest team in the NHL with a now 12-game win streak. The Avs had played 13 games in the 24 days since the Olympic break ended.

"With all the games in the short stretch of days, rest becomes a pretty valuable weapon for us," defenseman Erik Johnson said. "People might think that we need to practice all the time, but sometimes rest is the best ingredient you can have. It's pretty important for those two days for us to recharge and get ready for the stretch run."

The Avs were on the ice for over an hour at South Suburban Family Sports Center in what was team's first time at its practice facility since March 13. It was also the squad's first real practice since the beginning of the month where coaches could work on specific on-ice situations with rested bodies.

"It was good to have a practice today," head coach Patrick Roy said. "It was our first practice since [March 3], a real practice where we could work on some very specific things. I thought it was good today. I thought it was good to have that intensity."

Colorado didn't hold any team-organized practice activities over the weekend, but the club did get together on Sunday for its annual Charity Brunch community fundraiser.

The time the Avalanche spent off the ice this weekend could have been just as good mentally for the team as it was physically.

"For some of the other guys that have been battling the grind, it's good," said center Paul Stastny, who had already been resting for over a week after missing five of the last seven games with a back injury. "Kind of mentally I think to get away from the game, to get away from the rink for a couple of days. … As long as we can get a couple of bumps and bruises fixed up, I think we're ready for the rest of the grind."

Stastny said his back feels good and that he's ready for the final playoff push that includes 11 games in 20 days, seven of which will be on the road. He got injured March 8 against St. Louis and missed the next four games before returning last Tuesday at Montreal. Stastny was a pre-scheduled scratch for last Wednesday game at Winnipeg, but he did play Friday versus Boston.

"We wanted to make sure that I didn't come back early and be on and off," Stastny said. "I think I wanted to be 100 percent confident when I came back, and now I feel good."

Avalanche forward John Mitchell is still day-to-day with a back injury he suffered against the Canadiens, and Roy said he doesn't know when the center might return to the lineup.

"He said he is seeing some improvement, but not enough to play," Roy said of Mitchell's injury. "We're not going to put a [time frame on his return], but it's going to be a day-to-day. He could play as soon as the next game (after Nashville), or he could miss another three or four."

Mitchell skated before Monday's practice for the first time since the injury, but he didn't participate in any team drills.

Colorado begins the homestretch of its season Tuesday in Nashville against a Predators team that is coming off a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.

Nashville is currently on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, but the Avs know how dangerous the Predators are as they nearly erased a four-goal deficit in the third period of the teams' last meeting on Jan. 18, a 5-4 Avalanche win.

"It's tough playing from behind against them," Johnson said. "Last time we were in there we had a really big lead, and they almost tied it in the third. We would like to do that again, get a big lead, except hold it a little better this time."

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