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Avalanche-Blackhawks Preview @NHLdotcom
Avalanche-Blackhawks Preview

GAME: Colorado Avalanche (27-17-3) at Chicago Blackhawks (15-25-6).

TIME: Thursday, 8:30 p.m. EST.

The Colorado Avalanche look to match their longest winning streak in just over five years, and maintain their new first-place status when they visit the struggling Chicago Blackhawks.

Colorado was in fourth place in the Northwest Division less than three weeks ago, but with eight straight victories, finds itself tied for first in the division with Calgary and Vancouver.

"We've really enhanced our position in the last week," coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's better than hanging onto that eighth or ninth position. Now, we're looking at taking the division. It's a realistic objective."

Colorado hasn't won nine straight since beginning the 2000-01 season with an 11-game unbeaten streak. That team finished with a franchise-record 118 points and beat New Jersey in seven games in the Stanley Cup finals.

Milan Hejduk scored a pair of power-play goals 34 seconds apart to lift Colorado to a 5-3 victory Tuesday over Toronto.

"We're playing good hockey, we're on a roll and it's a lot of fun," said Hejduk, who has three goals and three assists during the winning streak. "We're definitely enjoying it."

Rookie Marek Svatos scored his 27th goal of the season Tuesday, and goalie David Aebischer had 25 saves to win his seventh straight start for Colorado.

"Five-on-five, four-on-four, we're playing much better," Aebischer said. "It shows in our standings. Right now we're playing with confidence and I think that's the key."

The Blackhawks dropped to 1-7-3 in their last 11 at home after a 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

Defenseman Jim Vandermeer scored the only goal for Chicago, while goalie Adam Munro had 21 saves in his third straight start.

Munro filled in again for Nikolai Khabibulin, who's missed 10 straight games with a pulled groin. Blackhawks coach Trent Yawney expects Khabibulin to return soon, and Munro to permanently replace Craig Anderson as the backup.

"(Munro) basically earned it," Yawney said. "Three goalies is a crowd. So something has to be done. I think that he took advantage of his opportunity and it's not like the other guy didn't get an opportunity."

Munro is 2-0-2 with a 1.92 goals-against average, while Anderson is 2-8-1 with a 3.90 GAA this season.

Colorado has won four straight in Chicago since a 3-1 loss on Dec. 27, 2001.

STANDINGS: Avalanche - 57 points, 1st place (tied), Northwest Division. Blackhawks - 36 points, 3rd place, 29 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Avalanche - Svatos, 27 goals; Alex Tanguay, 35 assists and 55 points; Ian Laperriere, 70 PIM. Blackhawks - Mark Bell, 16 goals; Tyler Arnason, 22 assists and 33 points; Matthew Barnaby, 109 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Avalanche - Power play: 20.5 percent (60 for 293), 5th in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.1 percent (229 for 269), 3rd. Blackhawks - Power play: 13.4 percent (34 for 253), 29th. Penalty killing: 85.0 percent (283 for 333), 4th.

GOALTENDERS: Avalanche - Aebischer (18-9-0, 2 SO, 3.09 GAA); Peter Budaj (6-5-3, 2.80). Blackhawks - Munro (2-0-2, 1.92); Anderson (2-8-1, 3.90).

SEASON SERIES: Blackhawks, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Oct. 14; Blackhawks 3-2, SO. At Denver, Khabibulin had 27 saves and the Blackhawks scored on all three chances in the shootout.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Avalanche - 12-11-0 on the road; Blackhawks - 8-11-3 at home.

Associated Press
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