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Avalanche open season series with Predators

by David Kalan /
PREDATORS (25-15-6) at AVALANCHE (24-16-6)

TV -- FS-TN (HD), ALT (HD)

Last 10 --
Nashville 8-2-0; Colorado 5-4-1.

Season series --
This is the first of four games this season between Nashville and Colorado. The Predators took three of four from the Avalanche a year ago, including their last meeting, a 5-3 Nashville win on Feb. 4, 2010 in the Music City.

Big Story -- With the tight postseason race causing no shortage of anxiety among front offices west of the Appalachians, two of the Western Conference's hotter teams will do their best to muddle up the picture even further when they face off Thursday night at the Pepsi Center.

Team Scope:

Predators --
After years of being a surprise contender in the West, Nashville is no longer surprising anyone. That still hasn't stopped Barry Trotz's squad from putting together another impressive campaign, one that has them fourth overall in the West and just six points back of first-place Detroit in the Central Division. With the Predators currently in the midst of a six-game road swing, their longest of the season, travel doesn't seem to be hampering them much -- Nashville won its last game Tuesday night in Phoenix 5-2.

That victory could just as easily be described as a two-man show, as J-P Dumont and Patric Hornqvist accounted for all the scoring, but while Dumont, who has five goals in the last two games, might be blisteringly hot, Nashville is playing like a far more complete team than those stats would indicate. For evidence of that look no further than captain Shea Weber, who despite not reaching the score sheet Tuesday has 13 points in his last 10 games.

Avalanche -- With three wins in their last four games, the Avs may be coming off their biggest one of the season. While it is quite a bit to expect Colorado to erase the 11-point gap between it and first-place Vancouver in the Northwest, Tuesday night's 4-3 overtime win against the Canucks may be evidence that the Avalanche can play with the big boys in the West.

That victory, sealed when David Jones put his second goal of the night past Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, was the product of a well-rounded team effort in every sense. While goalie Craig Anderson had a strong night with 40 saves, John-Michael Liles and Milan Hejduk's three-point performances showed that young center Matt Duchene, who is pointless in his last three games, need not score every game for his team to win. While the Avs are currently in a seventh-place tie in the West, Tuesday's victory, which opened a five-game homestand, could serve as a springboard for a hot second half.

Who's Hot -- With a number of Avs pulling their weight recently, Hejduk stands above a talented group with 7 points in his last five games. … No Predator, man or beast, has been better than goalie Pekka Rinne this month. In addition to winning seven of his last eight starts, Rinne has been dominant, pulling together a 1.49 goals-against average in that stretch. And his defense hasn't allowed him to walk that tightrope easily. Rinne has faced an average of 31.75 shots per game in that span.

Injury Report -- The Predators may be without Francis Bouillon, who missed Tuesday night's game against Phoenix with an upper-body injury. Marek Svatos, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, may also be out for Nashville. As well, the Preds will be without Steve Sullivan, who has been on IR with a lower-body injury for nearly a month. … Colorado will be without Ryan O'Reilly, who is out indefinitely after injuring his shoulder last week.

Stat Pack --
If the Avs are looking for a chance to cool off Rinne, they might think their best chance lies in the shootout, where Colorado is one of just four teams in the League with a perfect mark. The Avs could be walking themselves down a plank if they try that kind of brinksmanship, however, as Rinne's shootout mark, while not perfect, is an impressive 5-2 this season.

Puck Drop -- Colorado's big win over Vancouver could be a sign of things to come from the young Avs, who are five years removed from consecutive postseason appearances. If Colorado can topple Nashville when they kick off their season series Thursday night, it would be another big step for the Avalanche toward reaching that goal.

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