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Avalanche aim to slow League-leading Canucks

by Pete Jensen
AVALANCHE (26-34-8) at CANUCKS (46-16-9)


Last 10 --
Colorado 1-8-1; Vancouver 8-2-0

Season series --
This is the sixth and final meeting of the season between the Northwest Division rivals. Vancouver took the first four matchups of 2010-11, but the Avalanche rallied past the Canucks for a 4-3 overtime victory in the most recent showdown on Jan. 18 at Pepsi Center.

Big story --
The Canucks swept a five-game road trip and held off Minnesota at home on Monday night for their sixth straight victory. The Avalanche have lost eight straight, but will look to spoil Vancouver's pursuit of the President's Trophy in Wednesday's matchup at Rogers Arena.

Team scope:

Avalanche --
Colorado has struggled as of late in a tough conference packed with playoff contenders. The Avs' youth, together with recent injuries and the struggles of Peter Budaj and newly-acquired Brian Elliott in net, has led to a stretch of 20 losses in 22 games.

Matt Duchene has been a scoring threat all year, as his 21 tallies rank second on the team. However, the 20-year-old center has been hindered due to a hand injury suffered in mid-February. Duchene has not scored a goal in over a month, and the Avs' offense has taken a hit as a result.

"The one message that I've been preaching to the players is that we're all in this thing together," coach Joe Sacco said. "We got ourselves in this situation and we're the only ones that are going to get ourselves out of it. But nobody's by themselves. We're all in this together."

Canucks -- The Canucks have been one of the most complete teams in the NHL this season, due in part to their potent offense and their consistency in net. Vancouver possesses two of the top three point getters in the NHL, forwards Daniel Sedin (90) and Henrik Sedin (84). Vancouver's Roberto Luongo is tied for the League lead with 33 wins, and has provided stability in the crease for the Canucks all season.

With Minnesota in town on Monday night, the sizzling Canucks set the tone by unleashing three first period goals to open up a 3-0 lead. But after the Wild fought back to within a goal, Ryan Kesler ended Minnesota's threat with an empty-netter to seal Vancouver's sixth straight win.

"We made [Monday's] game a lot more stressful than it needed to be," center Manny Malhotra said. "Especially coming down the stretch, discipline is going to be a key issue for us. We're going to clean that up."

Who's hot -- Kesler storms into Wednesday night's game against the Avs having notched 3 goals in his last two games, and 6 points in his last four games. … Despite Colorado's recent struggles, a bright spot has come in the form of 20-year-old forward Ryan O'Reilly, who has scored goals in three of his last four games. Backup goalie Cory Schneider has won each of his last four starts, and will get the nod against the Avs on Wednesday.

Injury report -- Colorado defenseman John-Michael Liles (leg) and center Paul Stastny (back) practiced Tuesday, and are both probable for Wednesday's game. Milan Hejduk (shoulder) will accompany the team on its road trip, but won't be available vs. Vancouver. Ryan Stoa will also not play Wednesday after having an emergency appendectomy.

Vancouver's Sami Salo (elbow) was injured after being hit by a slap shot in Monday's game vs. Minnesota, and is listed as day-to-day. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa (foot) was back at practice this week and is nearing a return, but will likely not return until Friday at the earliest. Winger Tanner Glass (upper body) is listed as day-to-day as well.

Stat pack --
With Monday night's triumph over the Wild, the Canucks secured their sixth consecutive victory. Vancouver has won six or more games four different times this season, and with Monday's win became the first team to eclipse the 100-point mark this season.

Puck drop --
Vancouver leads Philadelphia by 10 points for the best mark in the NHL, but the Flyers hold three games in hand, making Wednesday's game against the Avalanche a very important one for the Canucks.

"It's tough to play a team like Colorado," Schneider said. "It seems like they don't have a lot going for them, but sometimes those teams are the toughest to play because they have nothing to lose and give you a tough fight."

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