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Avalanche host Devils looking to gain ground

by David Kalan

DEVILS (20-18-10) at AVALANCHE (29-12-5)


Last 10: New Jersey 5-2-3; Colorado 6-2-2

Season series: This is the first of two games between the New Jersey Devils and Colorado Avalanche.

Big story: The Avalanche have gotten hot the past two weeks by winning six of eight to close the gap between them and the Central Division-leading Chicago Blackhawks.

Team Scope:

Devils: Following a 4-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, New Jersey has a point in its past five games (3-0-2), winning three of four. The Devils have climbed to within one point of the final Stanley Cup Playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Near the bottom of the NHL at 2.33 goals per game, New Jersey's offense has produced more than two goals once in the five-game point streak. Aiding in that effort Thursday will be Patrik Elias, who was activated from injured reserve and will play for the first time after missing seven games with what the club called "total body soreness."

Avalanche: Colorado has dropped from first place to third in the Central, but with an eight-point lead and three games in hand on the Minnesota Wild for third place, the Avalanche remain in line for an automatic playoff berth.

Colorado made a big step toward getting some separation with a 4-2 win against the Wild this past Saturday. Colorado followed that up with an equally impressive win in Chicago on Tuesday thanks to an overtime-winner by defenseman Tyson Barrie and 46 saves from goalie Semyon Varlamov.

"He's been outstanding," coach Patrick Roy said of Varlamov. "We rally around him and that was the type of performance we needed from our goalie to beat the Blackhawks."

Who's hot: Devils forward Ryane Clowe has a goal and six assists during a five-game point streak. ... Barrie's score in overtime Tuesday was his second goal of the game and his second winner in three games. He has three goals and three assists in the past five games.

Injury report: Devils forward Damien Brunner (knee) and defenseman Peter Harrold (foot) are on injured reserve. ... Avalanche defenseman Cory Sarich (back), goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere (back spasms) and center Paul Stastny (leg) are questionable. Defenseman Nate Guenin (bruised ankle) and forwards David Van der Gulik (undisclosed), PA Parenteau (knee) and Alex Tanguay (knee) are on injured reserve.

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