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Avalanche-Flames Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Colorado Avalanche (37-23-6) at Calgary Flames (36-20-7).

TIME: Monday, 9 p.m. EST.

Peter Budaj may not be the Colorado Avalanche's first choice as a starting goaltender, but he has proven that he could play like one as they hunt for a division title.

Budaj and the Avalanche look to increase their Northwest Division lead when they wrap up a home-and-home series against the Calgary Flames at Pengrowth Saddledome.

Budaj made 22 saves for his first career shutout in Colorado's 3-0 victory over Calgary on Sunday. The win also moved the Avs a point ahead of the Flames in the Northwest Division.

The 24-year-old rookie inherited the starting job in net after Colorado traded veteran David Aebischer to Montreal for Jose Theodore on Wednesday.

Theodore is on the injured list with a fractured right heel, but the Avs expect him back for the playoffs where the 2002 Hart and Vezina Trophy winner is expected to lend a veteran presence.

"The situation is I know Jose Theodore is our No. 1 goaltender right now. He's hurt and right now it's my chance to do the job," Budaj said. "I just have to prepare for the games like I'm the starter. Hopefully I'm going to help this team get to the playoffs and get to the playoffs with a good rank."

Since Colorado traded Aebischer, Budaj has won two games, stopping 49 of 50 shots.

"Part of the decision in making the trade was that we trusted that Peter could take us down the stretch," Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. "Every time that he has gotten an opportunity, he has risen to it, and we expect him to do it again."

Joe Sakic and Alex Tanguay each had a goal and an assist Sunday. Sakic has three goals and four assists against Calgary this season, while Tanguay has four goals and four assists.

The Avs, who begin a critical five-game road swing with this contest, has lost just twice in their last 13 visits to Calgary.

The Flames have won six of their last nine games, but scoring continues to be difficult. Calgary has just 15 goals in its last eight games, and its 162 goals scored this season ties it with Columbus for the fewest in the West.

"Losing (first place in the Northwest division) that's not what is important," said Calgary coach Darryl Sutter. "It's not where you're at in the standings, it's more about how you're playing."

Leading scorer Jarome Iginla has just three goals in his last nine games.

Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff has kept the scores close in his last seven starts, as he has posted a 1.44 GAA with two shutouts and .948 save percentage in those games.

STANDINGS: Avalanche - 80 points, 1st place, Northwest Division. Flames - 79 points, 2nd place, 1 PB, Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Avalanche - Tanguay, 25 goals, 47 assists and 71 points; Ian Laperriere, 101 PIM. Flames - Iginla, 28 goals and 48 points; Dion Phaneuf and Andrew Ference, 24 assists; Darren McCarty, 97 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Avalanche - Power play: 19.5 percent (78 for 400), 5th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.6 percent (303 for 358), 7th. Flames - Power play: 17.9 percent (66 for 368), 14th. Penalty killing: 83.8 percent (325 for 388), 11th.

GOALTENDERS: Avalanche - Budaj (9-6-4, 1 SO, 2.53 GAA); Vitaly Kolesnik (3-3-0, 0, 3.29). Flames - Kiprusoff (32-17-7, 8, 2.15); Brian Boucher (4-6-0, 0, 3.66).

SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 3-2.

LAST MEETING: Sunday; Avalanche 3-0. At Denver, Budaj recorded his first career shutout and Milan Hejduk added a short-handed goal.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Avalanche - 16-15-1 on the road; Flames - 23-7-3 at home.

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