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At the Rink: Blackhawks at Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- With four wins in their past five games, the Colorado Avalanche are in position to reach the .500 mark for the first time this season, but they'll need to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks at Pepsi Center on Wednesday.

The injury-riddled Avalanche (8-9-5) will start rookie goalie Calvin Pickard because Semyon Varlamov remains out with a groin injury and Reto Berra is struggling. Top defenseman Erik Johnson will be a game-time decision. He left in overtime Tuesday after sustaining a head injury in a collision with Arizona Coyotes forward Martin Hanzal in the Avalanche's come-from-behind 4-3 win.

Down to five healthy defensemen, the Avalanche recalled Karl Stollery from the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League in case Johnson can't play. Varlamov was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Nov. 15 to make room for Stollery on the active roster.

Stollery, 27, had three goals and four assists in 16 games with Lake Erie. He made his NHL debut last season when he played in two games with Colorado.

Pickard, 22, has been quite a story for the Avalanche, stopping all 42 shots he has faced in 95:33 of playing time in two consecutive relief appearances. He made 25 saves Tuesday after relieving Berra in the first period after the Avalanche fell behind 3-0. He made 17 saves Saturday in relief of Berra for his first NHL win when the Avalanche turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 win against the Carolina Hurricanes.

"Every time you're in the lineup, backup or starting, you have to be ready," said Pickard, who was the Avalanche's second-round pick (No. 49) in the 2010 NHL Draft. "I learned that in Ottawa."

Pickard made his NHL debut Oct. 16 against the Ottawa Senators after he was recalled from Lake Erie on an emergency basis to dress as Berra's backup because Varlamov sustained a groin injury in the morning skate. He stopped 23 of 27 shots in a 5-3 loss. Pickard made his first start Oct. 18 and made 33 saves in a 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

"Going into every game now I prepare as if I'm going to play," said Pickard, who has a 2.00 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. "This whole experience has been good for me. Working with (goalie coach) Francois (Allaire) really helps me a lot. Every day that goes by I get that much more comfortable. The last few games I've played have been pretty good. I just have to build off that."

The Blackhawks (12-8-1) have gone 2-1-0 in the first three games of their annual "Circus Trip" with three games remaining.

They'll get back two-thirds of the line featuring Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Daniel Carcillo. Shaw will play after missing three games with an upper-body injury. Carcillo has returned after missing one game to be with his fiancée Ela, who gave birth Tuesday to the couple's first child, Austin Wolf.

Goalie Corey Crawford will make his 12th consecutive start for the Blackhawks, who have lost six of their past eight games in Denver.

"We haven't had much success here," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We've had some tough games here. They've been meaningful games, and these are a big two points for both teams tonight. We want to start this portion of the trip in a positive way and recapture that momentum we had going into Vancouver. Outside of that game, our game was going in the right direction and we were playing the right way, which is most important."

Here are the projected lineups:


Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Kris Versteeg - Brad Richards - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Daniel Carcillo

Joakim Nordstrom - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Michal Rozsival - Adam Clendening

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Scratched: Jeremy Morin, David Rundblad

Injured: Trevor van Riemsdyk (knee), Patrick Sharp (knee)


Ryan O'Reilly - Matt Duchene - Daniel Briere

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Jarome Iginla

Tomas Vincour - Ben Street - Maxime Talbot

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Paul Carey

Jan Hejda - Erik Johnson/Karl Stollery

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Nick Holden - Zach Redmond

Calvin Pickard

Reto Berra

Scratched: None

Injured: Patrick Bordeleau (back surgery), Dennis Everberg (separated shoulder), Erik Johnson (head), Jamie McGinn (back), John Mitchell (leg), Brad Stuart (hamstring), Alex Tanguay (facial fracture), Semyon Varlamov (groin), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Jesse Winchester (concussion)

Status report: Shaw's return from an upper-body injury prompted the Blackhawks to return Phillip Danault to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League. Sharp has been skating in Chicago and is expected to return Dec. 3 in a home game against the St. Louis Blues. He injured his knee Nov. 4 against the Montreal Canadiens. … Varlamov took part in the Avalanche's optional morning skate. He will miss his third consecutive game because of a groin injury.

Who's hot: Versteeg has three goals and four assists in a four-game scoring streak. Kane has four goals and four assists in the past five games. Hossa has one goal and six assists in the past four games. … Landeskog has two goals and four assists in a four-game scoring streak. MacKinnon has six assists in a three-game streak. Iginla has one goal and three assists in a two-game streak.

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