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Avalanche look for sixth straight win, host Maple Leafs

by Rick Sadowski

MAPLE LEAFS (11-13-7) at AVALANCHE (17-16-1)


DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche take a season-best five-game winning streak into Pepsi Center on Monday against the Toronto Maple Leafs looking to keep their momentum going before the Christmas break.

The Avalanche have outscored opponents 16-5 during the streak while getting strong goaltending from Semyon Varlamov. He was named the NHL's first star of the week after posting a 3-0-0 record with one shutout, a 0.67 goals-against average and .981 save percentage.

"I saw it two years ago when I was here," said Maple Leafs right wing PA Parenteau, who spent two seasons with Colorado. "He stole about 15 games, he was unbelievable. He's back doing that for the last few games, so we're going to have to get some traffic and make life a little harder for him because when he's feeling it, he's one of the best in the League."

Varlamov was nursing a groin injury when the teams met Nov. 17 in Toronto, a 5-1 Maple Leafs win. Toronto scored four power-play goals and a shorthanded goal against Reto Berra, who will dress as Varlamov's backup for the sixth consecutive game.

"We're feeling good now," Avalanche center Matt Duchene said. "We knew all along we could play this type of hockey and it's encouraging to be able to finally be doing it. We all knew what we were capable of at our best and at our worst. Early on there were bits and starts at our worst or mediocre, but we're playing at our best right now.

"We're doing a lot of good things and we want to keep it going. We're looking at going into the Christmas break on a high note."

The Avalanche are three points behind the Nashville Predators for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. They're trying to win their third consecutive home game for the first time this season.

"The important thing is we make sure we're ready for this game," Avalanche right wing Blake Comeau said. "I've been on teams before where the Christmas break is right around the corner and it's important for us to make sure there are no distractions and know how important this game is."

The Maple Leafs have gone 9-5-5 after losing 10 of their first 12 games under first-year coach Mike Babcock. They're 3-0-2 in the past five games and are coming off a 5-0 home win against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday behind goalie Jonathan Bernier, who made 26 saves for his first win in 12 decisions.

"We had such a rough start digging ourselves a hole," Parenteau said. "I feel like were climbing slowly but surely out of it. The guys are working, they're buying in, so it's good. It took a little time to figure out the system and for the guys to get used to it. We're doing a lot of good things."

Here are the projected lineups:


Michael Grabner - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - PA Parenteau

Daniel Winnik - Peter Holland - Joffrey Lupul

Shawn Matthias - Byron Froese - Brad Boyes

Jake Gardiner - Dion Phaneuf

Matt Hunwick - Morgan Rielly

Martin Marincin - Roman Polak

Jonathan Bernier

Antoine Bibeau

Injured: James Reimer (groin), Stephane Robidas (groin), Nick Spaling (upper body), Garret Sparks (lower body)

Scratched: Frank Corrado


Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Matt Duchene

Andreas Martinsen - Carl Soderberg - Blake Comeau

Alex Tanguay - John Mitchell - Jarome Iginla

Cody McLeod - Mikhail Grigorenko - Jack Skille

Francois Beauchemin - Erik Johnson

Nick Holden - Tyson Barrie

Zach Redmond - Nate Guenin

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

Injured: Ben Street (chest), Brad Stuart (back), Jesse Winchester (head)

Scratched: Brandon Gormley, Chris Wagner

Status report: Reimer worked out on the ice Monday and could be available on Dec. 27 when the Maple Leafs play the New York Islanders. He has missed five consecutive games.

Who's hot: Komarov has three goals and two assists during a three-game point streak. ... Grabner has three goals and two assists in his past two games. ... Kadri has three assists in two games. ... Varlamov has allowed six goals in his past six games (6-0-0). ... Comeau has one goal and two assists in his past three games. ... Soderberg has an assist in each of the past two games.

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