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Jagr can match Howe against Pickard-led Avalanche

Panthers star one point shy of third all-time

by Rick Sadowski / Correspondent

PANTHERS (36-19-8) at AVALANCHE (32-29-4)

TV: 9 p.m. ET; FS-F, ALT, NHL.TV 

DENVER -- Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr is one point shy of matching Gordie Howe for third on the NHL's all-time scoring list as he faces goalie Calvin Pickard and the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday at Pepsi Center.

Pickard will start instead of slumping Semyon Varlamov and make his first career appearance against the Panthers. Jagr, 44, needs one point for 1,850 to tie Gordie Howe for third place in NHL history.

"Hopefully we'll hold him off the scoresheet tonight," Pickard said. "He's a great player with the puck. He's still got it. I grew up watching him, hard to believe he's 20 years older than me."

Pickard, who has won his past two starts, made 15 saves on 16 shots after replacing Varlamov to start the second period Tuesday in the Avalanche's 6-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild. Varlamov allowed three goals in the first period and the Wild sealed the win with two empty-net goals.

"Every game's a playoff game, every game's so important," Pickard said. "I feel like I'm playing pretty well right now, but you're only as good as your last game and I want to come out tonight with a good game. I thought last game went pretty well and the guys played pretty well in front of me. It's a good opportunity for me. Every game's huge at this point and the only thing we're looking for is a win."

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy might have aged a little Tuesday watching the Wild score two goals on breakaways against Varlamov and another on a 2-on-1 rush.

"The odd-man rushes have been hurting a bit, actually a lot," he said. "I'd like to cut down on those odd-man rushes. I'd like to see us playing with the same grit we did (in the second period), bringing pucks to the net."

The Avalanche have lost three of their past four games to slip into sixth place in the Central Division and behind the Wild for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. Colorado and Minnesota each have 68 points, but the Wild have played one fewer game.

Forwards Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell didn't travel to Colorado after making their Panthers debuts Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets following their trades from the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, respectively. They are still waiting to have paperwork completed for U.S. visas. Gallant said he's hopeful they'll be available Saturday against the Arizona Coyotes.

Gallant said Kyle Rau probably will take Hudler's place at left wing on the Panthers' top line with Aleksander Barkov and Jagr. Rau has no points in five games this season. Forward Garrett Wilson, a healthy scratch Tuesday, is expected to skate on the third line with center Nick Bjugstad and Steven Kampfer, a natural defenseman.

"[Kampfer] has played forward before," Gallant said. "We're switching lines up, giving people opportunities. I like to keep my lines together as much as possible, but we can't do that right now."

Here are the projected lineups:

Kyle Rau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr
Jussi Jokinen - Vincent Trocheck - Reilly Smith
Steven Kampfer - Nick Bjugstad - Garrett Wilson
Quinton Howden - Logan Shaw - Shawn Thornton

Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Dmitry Kulikov - Aaron Ekblad
Jakub Kindl - Alex Petrovic

Roberto Luongo
Mike McKenna

Injured: Dave Bolland (lower body), Jonathan Huberdeau (upper body), Derek MacKenzie (upper body), Willie Mitchell (lower body), Al Montoya (upper body)
Scratched: Jiri Hudler, Teddy Purcell

Mikhail Grigorenko - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikkel Boedker
Shawn Matthias - Carl Soderberg - Blake Comeau
Cody McLeod - John Mitchell - Jack Skille

Francois Beauchemin - Erik Johnson
Nick Holden - Tyson Barrie
Chris Bigras - Andrew Bodnarchuk

Calvin Pickard
Semyon Varlamov

Injured: Eric Gelinas (back), Ben Street (chest), Brad Stuart (back surgery), Jesse Winchester (head)
Scratched: Zach Redmond, Chris Wagner

Status report: Kindl will make his Panthers debut. He was acquired from the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 27 for a sixth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. He was a healthy scratch Tuesday in Winnipeg. "We just wanted to give him an extra day to watch a game and become accustomed to the system," Gallant said. "It's a little tougher to walk into a team when you're playing defense. He's fine, he's going to be a good player for us and we're looking forward to seeing him tonight."

Who's hot: Jokinen has six assists in a five-game scoring streak. Jagr has four goals and two assists in the past six games. … MacKinnon has one goal and three assists in a three-game streak. Barrie has one goal and two assists in a three-game streak.

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