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Avalanche continue playoff climb against Predators

by Robby Stanley

AVALANCHE (26-23-11) at PREDATORS (40-13-7)

TV: TVA, ALT, FS-TN

NASHVILLE -- The Colorado Avalanche will try to gain ground in the Western Conference playoff race against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena.

Colorado has won two games in a row and four of its past five. They are six points out of a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference with 22 games remaining, but the offense is starting to come.

“We’ve been scoring offensively,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. “It seems like our guys are gaining more and more confidence offensively, and we continue to play well defensively, which is good. Our power play got two big goals in Chicago, got one at home against [the Arizona Coyotes] I think. We’ve been doing a lot of good things out there, and I think that’s the main thing.”

Making the playoffs will be a challenge for Colorado, but the team said it isn’t looking at the standings and worrying about what teams it has to pass. Colorado is trying to focus on its game instead.

“We’re not looking at the teams ahead of us,” Roy said. “We’re just looking at ourselves right now, focusing on how we want to play and what we need to do to be successful. We think that in order to make the playoffs, we’re going to need to have about 95 or 96 points. We’re focusing on that more than anything else. We know it’s a big command but at the same time, if you want to be part of the playoffs, you need to play well.”

Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon recorded his first career NHL hat trick Sunday in a 5-4 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“We’re hoping that he continues to stay hot and keeps going like that,” Avalanche forward Matt Duchene said. “I think it was one of those foregone conclusions that was going to happen at some point, and it was good to see.”

Nashville is 7-2-1 in its past 10 games and got a 2-1 shootout win against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday.

“I think you’ve just got to keep going with it,” Predators forward Mike Santorelli said. “Stick with the program, and finally it went in for us. We ended up getting an extra point as well, so that’s great.”

Santorelli and defenseman Cody Franson will play their first game at Bridgestone Arena since being traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It’s very exciting to be able to come back into this building and play in front of these fans,” said Franson, who began his career in Nashville. “They’re a lot of fun to play in front of, and obviously we’ve got a good thing going here. I’m real excited to get back home.”

The Predators are 25-3-1 at home this season and have won 14 of the past 15 games here. They said they know the Avalanche will be a desperate team to play Tuesday.

“Most every night is a desperate club right now,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “They’re fighting for something. You find that out against Philadelphia, you find it out when you play Anaheim. Everybody is fighting for something right now, and so are we. Instead of always looking at the opponent, we have to sometimes, I think, look in the mirror and challenge ourselves to get better.”

Here are the projected lineups:

AVALANCHE

Gabriel LandeskogRyan O'ReillyNathan MacKinnon

Maxime TalbotMatt DucheneJarome Iginla

Alex TanguayJohn MitchellDennis Everberg

Cody McLeodMarc-Andre ClichePaul Carey

Nate GueninTyson Barrie

Jan HejdaZach Redmond

Brad StuartNick Holden

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

Scratched: Daniel Briere, Stefan Elliott

Injured: Patrick Bordeleau (fractured kneecap), Erik Johnson (knee), Jamie McGinn (back surgery), Borna Rendulic (broken leg), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Jesse Winchester (concussion)

PREDATORS

Filip ForsbergMike RibeiroJames Neal

Matt CullenMike FisherCraig Smith

Colin WilsonMike SantorelliTaylor Beck

Eric NystromPaul GaustadGabriel Bourque

Roman JosiShea Weber

Mattias EkholmCody Franson

Anthony BitettoSeth Jones

Pekka Rinne

Carter Hutton

Scratched: Calle Jarnkrok, Victor Bartley

Injured: Ryan Ellis (lower body)

Status report: Varlamov was the first goaltender off the ice at the morning skate and is expected to start. … Ellis participated in the morning skate but is not expected to play against Colorado. … Nashville reassigned defenseman Anthony Bitetto to the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League.

Who’s hot: MacKinnon had a hat trick against Tampa Bay and has seven points in his past six games. … Smith has four goals and two assists in his past five games.

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