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Avalanche close to securing playoff berth

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche could clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009-10 with a win Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks at Pepsi Center and if the Phoenix Coyotes lose to the New Jersey Devils.

Colorado enters play Thursday in third place in the Central Division with 10 games to play. The Avalanche are three points (99-96) behind the second-place Chicago Blackhawks and have a game in hand.

"It would be a big accomplishment," Avalanche center Matt Duchene said of securing a playoff position. "That was our goal early in the season, to make the playoffs and to challenge for the Stanley Cup. That's step one and it would be great to do it [Thursday]."

Vancouver is in the hunt for a Western Conference playoff spot with eight games remaining. They have 78 points, four behind the Coyotes for the second wild-card position.

The Canucks didn't have a morning skate after opening a two-game road trip Wednesday with a 5-2 win against the Minnesota Wild. They've won three games in a row and are 8-1-1 in their past 10 games at Pepsi Center.

"It's a team that's fighting for a playoff spot and they're not going to look at excuses, especially being tired," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "Expect them to play a solid game. We've been talking all along we want to be even keel and it's certainly not going to change today because we're starting to sniff the playoffs. We want to make sure that we play the same type of hockey, solid at home, and we'll see where we are at the end."

Avalanche center John Mitchell skated Thursday but will miss his fourth game because of a back injury. Defenseman Erik Johnson is questionable because of flu-like symptoms.

Here are the projected lineups for the Avalanche and Canucks:


Alexandre Burrows - Shawn Matthias - Nicklas Jensen

Chris Higgins - Ryan Kesler - Daniel Sedin

David Booth - Brad Richardson - Zack Kassian

Tom Sestito - Zac Dalpe - Jannik Hansen

Alexander Edler - Kevin Bieksa

Dan Hamhuis - Jason Garrison

Ryan Stanton - Yannick Weber

Eddie Lack

Jacob Markstrom

Scratched: Jordan Schroeder, Michael Zalewski

Injured: Andrew Alberts (concussion), Henrik Sedin (leg), Christopher Tanev (broken finger), Mike Santorelli (shoulder)


Ryan O'Reilly - Matt Duchene - Jamie McGinn

Gabriel Landeskog - Paul Stastny - Nathan MacKinnon

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Maxime Talbot

Brad Malone - Patrick Bordeleau

Jan Hejda - Erik Johnson

Andre Benoit - Cory Sarich

Nick Holden - Tyson Barrie

Nate Guenin

Semyon Varlamov

Jean-Sebastien Giguere

Scratched: Reto Berra, Paul Carey, Ryan Wilson

Injured: John Mitchell (back), PA Parenteau (knee), Alex Tanguay (hip surgery)

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