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Avalanche aim to gain ground on Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger

AVALANCHE (28-12-5) at BLACKHAWKS (30-8-10)


Last 10: Colorado 5-2-3; Chicago 5-1-4

Season series: This is the third of five games between the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks, with the teams splitting the first two and the home team winning comfortably in each.

Big story: Prior to their most recent meeting, Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said he didn't consider his team a serious threat to the Blackhawks in the Central Division race and the game that followed seemed to prove his point.

Chicago won 7-2 on Dec. 27 at United Center in the first game back from the Christmas break for both teams. Colorado opted not to skate, at home or in Chicago, prior to that game. That won't be the case this time. The Avalanche, sitting third in the Central, look to get some revenge and gain a little ground on the division leaders.

Team Scope:

Avalanche: Colorado is coming off a 4-2 victory against the Minnesota Wild this past Saturday at Xcel Energy Center. The Avalanche got two goals from Ryan O'Reilly, including the game-winner, in his return from a shoulder injury that happened during a goal celebration and held him out for two games.

Colorado is procuring points despite three other injuries still keeping regulars sidelined. The Avalanche are 7-3-5 in their past 15 games and comfortably ahead of the Wild for the last guaranteed Stanley Cup Playoffs spot within the division.

"We want to keep them as far behind us as possible, and we're just going to keep on plugging away," center Matt Duchene told Adrian Dater of the Denver Post. "I think we're happy with where we're at right now, but we've just got to keep continuing to be hungry and don't change our mentality. That's what [Roy's] been preaching all year, to stay hungry, and it showed in wins like that [against Minnesota]."

Blackhawks: A slump for the defending Stanley Cup champions these days consists of not winning enough games that go past regulation. Prior to posting a 5-3 victory Sunday night at United Center against the Edmonton Oilers, Chicago had won just twice in its previous seven games.

The Blackhawks still got points in six of those games to stay atop the Central, just ahead of the St. Louis Blues, who have played four fewer games. The next three games are all on home ice, but the opponents are the Avalanche, Anaheim Ducks and Boston Bruins.

"It was nice that we played the right way [against Edmonton]," coach Joel Quenneville said. "It will certainly give us confidence in the later stages of games. The next three games are all big tests for us and we want to make sure we have a real good homestand here. It could put us back in a better spot."

Who's hot: Colorado forward Gabriel Landeskog scored a goal against the Wild, giving him at least a point in nine of his past 10 games. … Chicago captain Jonathan Toews extended his point streak to six straight games with a goal against the Oilers, while Marian Hossa scored a goal in his second straight game.

Injury report: Defenseman Nate Guenin (ankle) and forwards PA Parenteau (knee) and Alex Tanguay (knee) are on injured reserve for Colorado, which is also missing forwards David Van Der Gulik (head) and Paul Stastny (leg). Goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere (back spasms) is day-to-day. … Veteran goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (rotator cuff surgery) is on long-term injured reserve for the Blackhawks.

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