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Columbus in Mile High City to Face Avalanche

by Staff Writer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Mired in a three-game losing streak and in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, the Colorado Avalanche look to get things turned around when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night.

Colorado (29-29-5) is in 10th place in the Western Conference and will have to make up a double-digit deficit if it wants to avoid missing the postseason for the first time since 1993-94 - when the team was the Quebec Nordiques.

The Avalanche fell for the fifth time in six games Sunday, 5-3 at Anaheim. Colorado's last five games have been decided by two goals or fewer - the first four were by one goal - but the Avs have gone 1-4 in that stretch.

"(Saturday) we had a two-goal lead and blew that one. This time, you get back in it 3-3 and end up losing again," said Colorado captain Joe Sakic, the only player on the Avalanche roster who was on the '93-94 Nordiques. "It's been out problem all year, and we can't seem to get away from that. Right now, we've just got to find a way to win a hockey game."

Sakic has been doing his part, scoring Sunday for his 601st career goal to tie Jari Kurri for 16th place on the career list. The center extended his point streak to 12 games, during which he has six goals and 14 assists.

Rookie Paul Stastny had an assist to extend his streak to 12 games, totaling seven goals and 11 assists in that span. It's the longest point streak by a rookie since 1992-93, when Teemu Selanne had a 17-game run to close his 76-goal, 132-point first season with the Winnipeg Jets.

The Avalanche, last in the Northwest Division, have not finished lower than second in a division since relocating to Denver.

Colorado hopes Sakic and Stastny can stay hot as it tries to end its skid and start a push for the postseason. The Avs will be trying to avoid a season high-tying fourth straight loss.

"We do a lot of good things, but it's the things we've got to try to prevent that we've been stressing," coach Joel Quenneville said.

One area that has to improve for Quenneville's team is goaltending. Jose Theodore and Peter Budaj have struggled this month, with Theodore posting a 4.90 goals-against average and Budaj a 3.79 in February. Budaj has been pulled twice this month, while Theodore has been yanked once.

Jose Theodore made 36 saves Sunday in losing his second straight start, allowing five goals for the second consecutive time, but could be in net Tuesday. He's 3-1-0 with a 1.75 GAA against the Blue Jackets.

Budaj, though, is 2-1-0 with a 1.33 GAA against Columbus.

The Avs have dominated the Blue Jackets (24-32-7) since Columbus inaugural season of 2000-01, leading the series 20-1-1 with one tie. In the last meeting, however, the Jackets won 3-0 at the Pepsi Center on Dec. 5 behind Fredrik Norrena's 42 saves.

Norrena didn't start Sunday as Columbus lost for the fourth time in five games (1-2-2), with Ty Conklin making the start in the team's 4-3 shootout defeat at home to Nashville.

Ron Hainsey's goal midway through the third period forced overtime for Columbus, but the Blue Jackets couldn't convert on any of their three shootout attempts.

"We gathered ourselves for the third period and did a good job ... created a number of scoring changes," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I thought we deserved a better fate."

Columbus has lost nine of its last 12, including three of four on the road.

Sakic has 10 goals and 31 points in 21 games against the Blue Jackets, but was kept off the scoresheet in the December loss.

The status of Colorado's Karlis Skrastins for Tuesday is uncertain. He suffered a knee during Saturday's loss to Los Angeles and missed Sunday's game, ending his NHL-record streak of games played by a defensemen at 495.

The Blue Jackets placed forward Dan Fritsche on injured reserve Monday with an injured wrist. He has 12 goals and 15 assists in 59 appearances. No timetable was set for his return.

Columbus recalled Geoff Platt from its affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y., to fill the roster spot. Platt was leading Syracuse with 27 goals, but has gone scoreless in seven games with the Blue Jackets this season.


- Associated Press

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