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Avalanche ready for important stretch, visit Wild

by Dan Myers / NHL.com

AVALANCHE (11-14-1) at WILD (13-7-4)

TV: ALT, FS-N

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Colorado Avalanche have a chance to finish their four-game road trip with a winning record when they play the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday.

It is the first of home-and-home games between the teams; they play again in Denver on Monday.

The Avalanche have won their past two games, including a 2-1 win against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. The Wild will be the third opponent on the road swing that made the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.

"It'd be really good for us [to go home with a winning record on the trip]," Avalanche forward Jarome Iginla said. "We're trying to get back into the playoff picture and for the last four weeks, we've been on the road for three of them."

The game Saturday also opens a critical stretch between now and Dec. 16 for the Avalanche. Five of the next six games will be against Central Division opponents, with four of those away from Pepsi Center.

"This is an important moment in our season," coach Patrick Roy said. "There's different times in the season where you really want to win some hockey games and I think this one is going to be an important one for us."

This is the third time in Roy's three seasons the Avalanche and Wild have played home-and-home games. Each time, the team that won the first game also won the second.

"When you're in the position we are, the urgency of winning games is there," Roy said. "It'll be important for us to have a strong game. It's an opportunity for us to get closer to them in the standings. At the same time, they're good games. I think it's healthy for hockey. It builds up [the rivalry] and I think teams enjoy those games."

Wild coach Mike Yeo said the home-and-home aspect helps fuel a rivalry that has heated up in recent seasons. Colorado is the lone Central Division team that was also in the old Northwest Division with Minnesota.

"It's intense, there's tons of emotion. You have to be at your best because it's a tough challenge," Yeo said. "They're playing real well on the road, they've played well on this road trip. We're facing another team that's not giving up much."

Colorado has allowed one goal in each of its past two games. Minnesota has given up one goal in the past two games.

Devan Dubnyk is expected to start in goal for the Wild unless his wife goes into labor before the game.

Here are the projected lineups:

AVALANCHE

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Matt Duchene

Alex Tanguay - Mikhail Grigorenko - Jarome Iginla

Blake Comeau - Carl Soderberg - John Mitchell

Cody McLeod - Chris Wagner - Jack Skille

Francois Beauchemin - Erik Johnson

Nick Holden - Tyson Barrie

Nate Guenin - Brandon Gormley

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

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

Scratched: Andreas Martinsen, Zach Redmond

WILD

Zach Parise - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Nino Niederreiter

Thomas Vanek - Charlie Coyle - Justin Fontaine

Chris Porter - Erik Haula - Ryan Carter

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Marco Scandella - Jonas Brodin

Nate Prosser - Matt Dumba

Devan Dubnyk

Darcy Kuemper

Injured: Tyler Graovac (sports hernia)

Scratched: Niklas Backstrom, Mike Reilly

Status report: Roy said he expects to make no changes to his lineup. ... Scandella will begin the game with Brodin in an attempt to scale Suter's minutes back. Suter, who leads the NHL in ice time, has averaged 29:35 over his past 14 games and has topped 30 minutes in five of those games.

Who's hot: Duchene has a goal in each of his past two games and has 18 points in his past 12 games. ... Granlund is averaging one point per game over his past eight games.

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