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Avalanche-Blues Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Colorado Avalanche (34-23-6) at St. Louis Blues (18-32-9).

TIME: Tuesday, 8 p.m. EST.

The Colorado Avalanche are just three points out of first place in the Northwest Division, a spot that would guarantee them one of the top three playoff spots in the Western Conference. If the Avs don't get back on track quickly, though, they could find themselves in a battle just to make the postseason.

Colorado looks to avoid a third straight loss when it takes on the St. Louis Blues in the third game of a four-game road trip.

The Avalanche opened the trip Saturday having won five of their last six, but lost 5-3 at Dallas and followed it up with a 5-3 defeat to Minnesota on Sunday.

The loss to the Wild dropped Colorado below .500 on the road, and the Avs need to improve their play away from the Pepsi Center quickly. Sunday's contest began a stretch of nine of 10 games away from Denver.

The stretch is critical for Colorado, which trails first-place Calgary by three points in the Northwest, but is only one point ahead of seventh-place Los Angeles and two up on eighth-place Edmonton in the conference. Ninth-place Anaheim, with 68 points, is just six behind the Avs.

Colorado's only game in Denver during the span comes Sunday against the Flames as the teams open up a home-and-home showdown. Calgary has won five of its last six.

The Avalanche should have a good chance to go into that first meeting with the Flames with consecutive wins, as a matchup with struggling Chicago on Thursday follows this game. Colorado, though, couldn't take advantage of a last-place team Sunday, as the Wild's Marian Gaborik scored his second career short-handed goal for the game-winner early in the third period.

"We've been fortunate to get the timely goal, but tonight they did," Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. "Anytime you get a short-handed goal it's going to swing the game."

Alex Tanguay had three assists for the Avalanche, who uncharacteristically struggled on the power play. Ranked fourth in the NHL, Colorado managed one goal in six man-advantage situations.

Avalanche star Joe Sakic was held without a point against the Wild, but should be happy to see the Blues. He has 62 points in 45 games against them.

Colorado, though, will be facing a St. Louis club that is playing well, having won seven of 10 since trading away top scorers Doug Weight and Mike Sillinger in late January.

"That's tougher to explain, those are our two best centers and two of our top point-getters," rookie Jay McClement said of the Blues' improvement since the trades. "It was a big loss for us."

Players like McClement appear to be a big reason for that improvement. The 23-year-old center had three assists Sunday in St. Louis' 4-1 road victory over Vancouver, giving him nine points in his last four games.

The Blues completed a four-game season sweep of the Canucks.

"We just outworked them," St. Louis' Curtis Sanford said after making 23 saves. "When you do that, things usually go your way."

STANDINGS: Avalanche - 74 points, 3rd place, 3 PB, Northwest Division. Blues - 45 points, 5th place, 42 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Avalanche - Marek Svatos, 32 goals; Tanguay, 45 assists and 69 points; Ian Laperriere, 99 PIM. Blues - Dean McAmmond, 15 goals; Petr Cajanek, 29 assists; Scott Young, 41 points; Barret Jackman, 124 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Avalanche - Power play: 19.9 percent (77 for 387), 4th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.5 percent (294 for 348), 8th. Blues - Power play: 15.8 percent (61 for 385), 23rd. Penalty killing: 81.4 percent (241 for 296), 20th.

GOALTENDERS: Avalanche - David Aebischer (24-14-2, 3 SO, 3.03 GAA); Peter Budaj (7-6-4, 2.76). Blues - Sanford (12-13-4, 3, 2.80); Patrick Lalime (3-11-5, 3.81).

SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 9; Avalanche, 6-1. At Denver, Svatos had his second three-goal game and Aebischer stopped 27 shots to help the Avs win their fifth in a row. ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Avalanche - 14-15-1 on the road; Blues - 9-15-3 at home.

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