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Avalanche-Blackhawks Preview @NHL

It is easy to be overshadowed on a team that has future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic still playing at a very high level. Overlooking Paul Stastny, however, is a mistake opposing teams can't afford.

Stastny looks to continue his stellar sophomore season Friday night as the Colorado Avalanche open a four-game road trip against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Few players have been as impressive in the first three weeks of the season as Stastny, the 21-year-old center whose father, Peter, scored 450 goals in 16 NHL seasons with Quebec, New Jersey and St. Louis.

The younger Stastny finished with 28 goals and 50 assists in his rookie season, during which he recorded a point in an NHL rookie-record 20 consecutive games.

Stastny ranks among the league leaders with five goals, eight assists and 13 points in six games. He already has a hat trick, a five-point game and a three-assist game this season.

Three days after Sakic's hat trick lifted Colorado to a 5-1 win over Columbus, Stastny keyed a 5-4 shootout victory Tuesday over visiting Calgary as he set up three of the Avalanche's four second-period goals.

Ryan Smyth had a goal and an assist before scoring the decisive goal in the shootout as the Avalanche (4-2-0) erased a four-goal deficit - their largest comeback win since rallying from five down in a 7-5 victory over Florida on March 3, 1999.

"It's important that we play a full 60 minutes and we didn't do that today," said Smyth, who tied a franchise record with 11 shots on goal. "It wasn't what we had in mind, but we'll sure take it any way we can."

Playing the biggest role in the win was goaltender Jose Theodore, who stopped all 17 shots he faced in relief of Peter Budaj.

"When you get in, it's never easy, you're not as warmed up," Theodore said. "I was trying to keep it simple, give my team a chance to win, and they showed a lot of character coming back."

It was the first win of the season for Theodore, who lost his only start - 4-1 at St. Louis last Friday.

Although Budaj is 3-1-0, he has been pulled in two of his five starts and his 3.40 goals-against average ranks near the bottom of the league. Budaj, however, is 3-0-1 with a 1.72 GAA in four career starts against Chicago.

Avalanche right wing Milan Hejduk missed Tuesday's game with a sore back and is day-to-day.

The Blackhawks were unable to recover from a slow start Wednesday in a 3-1 loss to visiting St. Louis.

Faced with a 2-0 deficit less than seven minutes into the game, Chicago (3-3-0) managed only a power-play goal by Jason Williams with 6:20 left in the first period.

In each of the Blackhawks' three victories this season, they've rallied late.

"In this league, when you have a poor start, it's tough to come back every night," coach Denis Savard said. "There was effort and a lot of good things happened, but once you get down 2-nothing, it's tough to come back."

Generating offense remains a problem for the Blackhawks, who have scored a Western Conference-low 10 goals.

Rookie center Jonathan Toews has one point in all four games he's played this season and is tied for second on the team with four points.

These teams split four meetings in 2006-07 but the Avalanche are 11-3-1 with one tie in the series since the start of the 2002-03 season.

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