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Avalanche host Blues in Central Division clash

by Brian Hunter

BLUES (42-14-6) at AVALANCHE (41-17-5)


Last 10: St. Louis 6-3-1; Colorado 7-3-0

Season series: This is the third of four games between the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche. The Blues won the first two, outscoring the Avalanche 11-4. David Backes (two goals, three assists), Derek Roy (one goal, four assists) and T.J. Oshie (five assists) lead the Blues in scoring. Alexander Steen leads them with three goals.

Big story: St. Louis is in hot pursuit of the Anaheim Ducks for the Presidents' Trophy and first place in the Western Conference. Colorado is in hot pursuit of St. Louis and the Chicago Blackhawks for the lead in the Central Division. The Avalanche also want to prove they can beat the Blues following a lopsided defeat at Scottrade Center in November followed by a more competitive game at Pepsi Center a couple weeks later.

Team Scope:

Blues: One reason St. Louis has a leg up in its quest to win the Central is its dominance within the division. A 2-1 win against the Nashville Predators on Thursday was the Blues' 14th win in a row vs. the Central, and they're 16-0-1 within the division this season.

Brian Elliott could get a start in goal this weekend with the Blues also playing Sunday at the Minnesota Wild, but the man of the moment is Ryan Miller, who's 3-0-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average since being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres last Friday.

"Our goal was to lead the division at the Olympic break and we did that, and now the goal is to try to win the Presidents' Trophy," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "What the heck, that's important to us. It puts value in what's left of these (20) games now and we want to take advantage of this. It's important for our guys."

Avalanche: This is the start of a four-game homestand for Colorado, a great opportunity for the surging Avalanche to take a run at the division title. They rallied from a pair of one-goal deficits Thursday and defeated the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in overtime.

Colorado has been averaging more than four goals per game during its run, aided by the record-setting play of rookie Nathan MacKinnon. His assist on defenseman Andre Benoit's OT goal that beat the Red Wings gave the forward a 13-game point streak. All that did was break an NHL record held by Wayne Gretzky for the longest point streak by an 18-year-old.

"We're not digging our heels in and coasting to the playoffs at this point," forward Matt Duchene said in the Denver Post. "We have our foot down on the gas and we're pressing forward. We're not the old Avs anymore. We're not that team we've been the last four years that tries not to lose. We're the team that always tries to win and goes for it no matter what. It's so fun right now. We're looking around this room and we realize we have something special. So we just have to keep it going."

Who's hot: Blues forward Magnus Paajarvi has goals in two of the past three games. … MacKinnon has five goals and 13 assists during his run for the Avalanche; Duchene has three goals and seven assists during a six-game point streak; forward Ryan O'Reilly has three goals and six assists during a five-game point streak; and defenseman Erik Johnson has one goal and five assists during a three-game point streak.

Injury report: St. Louis defenseman Jordan Leopold (ankle) and forward Vladimir Sobotka (knee) are sidelined, though Leopold could return as early as next week and Sobotka has been skating. … Colorado forward Alex Tanguay (hip) is out for the season.

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