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Avalanche return home to face Crosby-less Penguins

by Sean McCullen

PENGUINS (49-24-5) at AVALANCHE (50-21-6)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 4-5-1; Colorado 7-2-1

Season series: This is the second and final game. The Colorado Avalanche beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 1-0 at Consol Energy Center on Oct. 21. Captain Gabriel Landeskog scored for Colorado, which received 34 saves from backup goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere to blank Pittsburgh.

Big story: Penguins center Sidney Crosby is out with an upper-body injury, the team announced Sunday evening. It is the first game he will miss this season.

The Penguins also announced left wing Chris Kunitz (lower body) and defenseman Brooks Orpik (lower body) will be scratched.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said each player has been dealing with the injuries.

"It wasn't prudent to [have them play] in back-to-back games," he said.

Pittsburgh, which has clinched the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, is already without center Evgeni Malkin (broken foot).

The Avalanche are three points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for second place in the Central Division entering Sunday. Colorado and Chicago are battling for home-ice advantage in a likely Western Conference First Round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Colorado's lead could be smaller when the Avalanche and Penguins take the ice at Pepsi Center; the Blackhawks host the Central-leading St. Louis Blues on Sunday afternoon.

Team Scope:

Penguins: Before opting to sit several of its ailing players Sunday night, Pittsburgh, which has lost two of three, added another defenseman to its injury list when rookie Olli Maatta was a late scratch before a 4-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.

Maatta has an upper-body injury and is considered day-to-day, Bylsma said after the game. He is second among Pittsburgh defensemen in points (29).

The Penguins are already missing top defenseman Kris Letang, who has not played since Jan. 27 due to a stroke. They did get good news on the injury front Thursday when defenseman Paul Martin, who had been out since Feb. 7 with a broken right hand, returned to the lineup and scored the game-winner in a 4-2 victory against the Winnipeg Jets.

Crosby wasn't happy with the Penguins' performance against Minnesota.

"We didn't play well," he said. "That being said, there were some bounces early on, and we seemed to get some chances to get within a couple and didn't score. We didn't get a lot of momentum after that. We had some chances to score in the second and didn't, and the third period was pretty passive by both teams."

Avalanche: Colorado has 50 wins after its 4-0 road victory against the Blues on Saturday. After finishing with the second-worst record in the NHL in 2012-13, the Avalanche are two wins shy of tying the franchise record (2000-01) and trail St. Louis by five points for the division lead.

Semyon Varlamov made 31 saves to earn his second shutout and 40th win.

"Varly's been our best player; he's been phenomenal from the get-go," coach Patrick Roy said Saturday. "It's biased a bit by me, but he deserves to be part of the Hart Trophy [conversation]."

With the win in St. Louis, the Avalanche have beaten every team in the NHL at least once this season.

Who's hot: Penguins right wing Lee Stempniak has a goal and two assists in his past four games. Left wing Chris Kunitz has three goals and two assists in his past six. … Avalanche center Paul Stastny has two goals and seven assists during a six-game point streak. Forward Nathan MacKinnon has a goal and four assists in his past four games.

Injury report: Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, Maatta and Orpik are out for Pittsburgh. Left wing Jussi Jokinen (upper body) will play after sitting Saturday. Center Joe Vitale (middle body) returned to Pittsburgh to be re-evaluated. Letang, forwards Chris Conner (broken foot) and Pascal Dupuis (knee) and goaltender Tomas Vokoun (pelvis) are on injured reserve. … Colorado forward Cody McLeod (ankle) is day-to-day. He sat out Saturday after leaving the game Thursday against the New York Rangers in the second period. Forwards PA Parenteau (knee) and Matt Duchene (knee) are out.

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