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Avalanche-Blackhawks Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Colorado Avalanche (35-23-6) at Chicago Blackhawks (20-32-9).

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

Nikolai Khabibulin may be in the Chicago Blackhawks' starting lineup when they host the Colorado Avalanche. Marek Svatos, the Avs' leading goal scorer, certainly won't be.

Khabibulin, who missed 12 consecutive games with a sprained knee, could be in net for Chicago when it takes on a Colorado team that learned Thursday it will be without Svatos for the rest of the season.

Khabibulin backed up Craig Anderson in Chicago's 3-1 win over Columbus on Tuesday. The Blackhawks scored three unanswered goals to avoid a third straight loss.

"I felt pretty good," said Anderson, who made 27 saves.

Anderson, Corey Crawford and Adam Munro filled in for Khabibulin and compiled a 4-6-3 record.

Khabibulin sprained an MCL during a 4-1 loss to Minnesota on Jan. 20. The injury also kept him off the Russian team for the Olympics.

Even before the injury, the 33-year-old goalie was having a difficult first season with the Blackhawks after signing the richest contract in team history. He joined Chicago after helping Tampa Bay win the Stanley Cup in 2003-04.

Khabibulin has a 12-18-3 record with a 3.32 goals-against average, his highest since a 3.41 GAA during his 1994-95 rookie season with the Winnipeg Jets. His .883 save percentage is a career low.

Khabibulin has had success against the Avalanche this season, winning both of his meetings with them while posting a 1.92 GAA. He made 37 saves in a 4-2 win on Jan. 19 in the last matchup to beat Colorado for the sixth time in his last eight tries.

Khabibulin should have a better chance to continue his success against the Avs without the presence of Svatos, the dynamic rookie who has 32 goals. Svatos suffered a shoulder injury during last weekend's 5-3 loss at Dallas, and the Avs announced Thursday that he will need several months to recover.

"Marek sustained a fracture in his right shoulder, which was discovered during an MRI. The subsequent result is that he will require surgery," trainer Matt Sokolowski said. "It's important to note that this injury is to the right shoulder while both of his previous shoulder injuries were to his left shoulder."

The Avalanche are closing a four-game road trip, but after hosting Calgary on Sunday, play their next five on the road.

The trip saw Colorado lose 5-3 to both Dallas and Minnesota before Milan Hejduk scored the only shootout goal in the Avs' 2-1 win over St. Louis on Tuesday.

Svatos' injury came a day after Colorado surprisingly traded No. 1 goaltender David Aebischer to Montreal for injured goalie Jose Theodore, whom the Avs expect to return in April and be ready for the playoffs. Aebischer is 25-14-2 with a 2.98 GAA, while Theodore is 17-15-5 with a 3.46 GAA.

Until Theodore's return, Colorado will count on Peter Budaj and Vitaly Kolesnik in net.

"We are convinced that we are securing our goaltending position for many years," Avs president and general manager Pierre Lacroix said in a statement. "(Theodore) is a proven, All-Star caliber netminder and at 29 he is entering the prime years of his career. Every year we are trying to reach the ultimate goal and this represents another sign to our fans that hasn't changed."

The Avalanche are trying to make the playoffs for the 10th season in a row and capture their ninth division title since moving from Quebec to Denver for the 1995-96 season. They are in fifth place in the Western Conference, one point behind the Flames for the fourth spot as well as the Northwest Division lead.

STANDINGS: Avalanche - 76 points, 2nd place, 1 PB, Northwest Division. Blackhawks - 49 points, 4th place, 38 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Avalanche - Svatos, 32 goals; Alex Tanguay, 46 assists and 70 points; Ian Laperriere, 99 PIM. Blackhawks - Mark Bell, 20 goals; Kyle Calder and Tyler Arnason, 28 assists; Calder, 42 points; Matthew Barnaby, 155 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 8): Avalanche - Power play: 19.6 percent (77 for 393), 5th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.4 percent (298 for 353), 7th. Blackhawks - Power play: 13.0 percent (42 for 324), 30th. Penalty killing: 84.0 percent (367 for 437), 9th.

GOALTENDERS: Avalanche - Budaj (7-6-4, 2.76 GAA); Kolesnik (3-3-0, 3.29). Blackhawks - Khabibulin (12-18-3, 3.32); Anderson (5-9-3, 1 SO, 3.45).

SEASON SERIES: Blackhawks, 2-0.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 19; Blackhawks, 4-2. At Chicago, Calder scored two goals and the Blackhawks won despite being outshot 39-25, including 20-4 in the first period.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Avalanche - 15-15-1 on the road; Blackhawks - 11-14-4 at home.

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