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At the Rink: Sabres at Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche know the odds are long, but they plan to play as if they still have a chance to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, an approach they'll take against the Buffalo Sabres at Pepsi Center on Saturday (9 p.m. ET; MSG-B, BELL TV, ALT2).

The Avalanche (34-28-12) have eight games remaining and are 10 points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.

The Sabres (20-46-8) have the worst record in the NHL and have no chance at a playoff position. They've gone 1-8-3 in the past 12 games and will be without leading scorer Tyler Ennis, who sustained a left shoulder injury Thursday in a 4-3 overtime home loss against the Arizona Coyotes.

Sabres coach Ted Nolan said he's hopeful that Ennis, who has 19 goals and 23 assists, will be available Monday against the Coyotes when Buffalo completes a two-game road trip.

"There's been a number of guys missing this year, but when you miss a guy like him, that definitely hurts," Nolan said. "He's by far our most dynamic player, probably our MVP this year, so it's certainly tough without him."

Brian Gionta will take Ennis' place at right wing on the Sabres' top line with left wing Matt Moulson and center Johan Larsson.

"His enthusiastic approach to the game the way he plays and competes should make all the young kids who get opportunities play even harder because of that," Nolan said of Gionta, 36, who has 10 goals and 16 assists. "I've been very impressed with Brian's overall approach."

The Avalanche are coming off a 1-2-0 road trip in which they lost one-goal games to the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers before defeating the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 Thursday. They went 6-1-1 in the eight previous games.

"We want to continue to do what we've been doing lately," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "I really feel we should have won those three games on that road trip. We played really well in Calgary and Edmonton and came up short. It's been a great learning process for our team. We're not where we wanted to be at this time, but I think the group learned a lot and it's certainly going to help us along the way."

Center Matt Duchene said one of the biggest lessons is how important it is to have a good start to a season. The Avalanche didn't climb above .500 until Jan. 8 at 17-16-8.

"Last year we had such a good one we could pretty much go .500 the rest of the year and make the playoffs and we did better than that," he said. "This year was a complete opposite. You put yourself behind the eight-ball like that, this League is too good. We're not giving up, we're just going to try to win our games and see what happens.

"Last year at this time you walk in the room and the energy's so high from just knowing you're going to play for the Stanley Cup. Chances are slim for us right now and it's tough, but we're professionals and we get paid very well to do what we do and we have to come as professionals every night. We have to put a good product on the ice for the fans. They pay their money and we have to be loyal to them and play for them. We're not out of it and we're not acting like we're out of it."

Here are the projected lineups:


Matt Moulson - Johan Larsson - Brian Gionta

Marcus Foligno - Mikhail Grigorenko - Zac Dalpe

Nicolas Deslauriers - Philip Varone - Cody Hodgson

Matt Ellis - Tim Schaller - Patrick Kaleta

Mike Weber - Rasmus Ristolainen

Andre Benoit - Zach Bogosian

Tyson Strachan - Andrej Meszaros

Anders Lindback

Matt Hackett

Scratched: Nikita Zadorov

Injured: Jerry D'Amigo (facial surgery), Tyler Ennis (shoulder), Zemgus Girgensons (lower body), Josh Gorges (lower body), Chad Johnson (lower body), Evander Kane (shoulder surgery), Cody McCormick (blood clots)


Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Alex Tanguay

John Mitchell - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Dennis Everberg

Jordan Caron - Joey Hishon - Freddie Hamilton

Jan Hejda - Zach Redmond

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Nick Holden - Brad Stuart

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

Scratched: None

Injured: Patrick Bordeleau (fractured kneecap), Daniel Briere (foot), Erik Johnson (knee), Jamie McGinn (back surgery), Nathan MacKinnon (broken foot), Borna Rendulic (broken leg), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Jesse Winchester (concussion)

Status report: Johnson, who had knee surgery Jan. 26, took part in the Avalanche's morning skate but will miss his 27th consecutive game. "He's getting very close," Roy said. It's possible Johnson could be available Monday against the Edmonton Oilers.

Who's hot: Gionta has three goals and one assist in a two-game streak. ... O'Reilly has four goals and seven assists in a six-game streak. ... Tanguay has three goals and two assists in a three-game streak. ... Landeskog has two goals and three assists in a three-game streak.

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