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Avalanche aim to jump over Blackhawks in Central

by Mike G. Morreale

BLACKHAWKS (38-13-14) at AVALANCHE (42-18-5)


Last 10: Chicago 6-3-1; Colorado 6-4-0

Season series: This is the fifth and final game between the Avalanche and Blackhawks. Colorado has won three of four, including a 4-2 victory March 4 at United Center. Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie scored the deciding goal 12:50 into the third period, giving him two game-winners against Chicago this season, both at United Center.

Big story: Second place in the Central Division of the Western Conference is at stake as the Avalanche, who have won five of the past six games, play the third of a four-game homestand. The Blackhawks hold a one-point edge over the Avalanche in the division, but Colorado holds the tiebreaker because it has more non-shootout wins (39-33). Colorado, 22-9-3 at Pepsi Center, has the most wins (19) and points (39) of any team since Dec. 31. Each team has 17 regular-season games remaining.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: Buffalo native Patrick Kane scored a goal to help defeat the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center 2-1 on Sunday. It marked Kane's first game in his hometown since Oct. 11, 2010, and it was his third goal in Buffalo. Jonathan Toews scored 1:34 into the third period to snap a 1-1 tie. The triumph was the third in the past four games for the Blackhawks, who have excelled at killing penalties during the past month. In the past 17 games the Blackhawks have given up just six power-play goals (55 of 61; 90.2 percent). For the season, the Blackhawks rank 19th in the League with an 81.1 percent efficiency on the penalty kill.

"I think confidence is part of it," coach Joel Quenneville said of the penalty kill. "You're always going to have some good stretches and bad stretches, and we certainly had a bad stretch for too long for us, but I like how we're trending."

Antti Raanta will start for the Blackhawks; it will be his first appearance since being pulled from a start Jan. 28 against the Calgary Flames.

Avalanche: Despite being reduced to 10 healthy forwards after PA Parenteau went down with a right knee injury early in the first period against the Winnipeg Jets on Monday, Colorado gutted out a 3-2 victory when Matt Duchene scored 2:33 into overtime. Semyon Varlamov stopped 33 shots for win No. 32 and John Mitchell and Andre Benoit also scored.

Mitchell moved from third-line center to the second line with Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon after Parenteau was injured; he finished with a goal and an assist.

"We're not out of the race for the division lead or No. 1 in the NHL," Duchene said. "We're right there. We just have to keep working hard here. I mean, that's a character win [Monday]. There's no other way to describe that. Guys just played their hearts out."

Who's hot: Toews has six goals, seven points and a plus-4 rating in five games for the Blackhawks since his return from the Sochi Olympics, where he helped Canada win a gold medal. … Avalanche rookie Nathan MacKinnon has seven goals, 22 points and a plus-11 rating in the past 18 games. Duchene is on an eight-game point streak (four goals, eight assists).

Injury report: Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa (upper body) is out at least two more weeks. … Colorado is without Parenteau (right knee) for at least 4-6 weeks, according to coach Patrick Roy. Forward Alex Tanguay (hip surgery) is on injured reserve. Center Paul Stastny (back) is day-to-day.

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