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Avalanche seek to end skid, sweep Blue Jackets

by Brian Hunter

BLUE JACKETS (22-26-9) at AVALANCHE (30-18-6)

Last 10: Columbus 4-6-0; Colorado 6-4-0

Season Series: Fourth and final meeting of the regular season, with the Avalanche shooting for the sweep. They took a pair of 3-2 decisions in Columbus, on Dec. 5 and Jan. 2, and won the only prior meeting in Colorado, 5-2 on Dec. 19. Wojtek Wolski and Chris Stewart have each tallied three goals for the Avs.

Big Story: Columbus has been doing its best to turn things around, with four wins in its last seven games, but time is running short on the Blue Jackets. They'll try once again to put consecutive victories together for the first time since a three-game winning streak from Jan. 7-10.

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets:
It had been almost three years since Columbus last won a game in St. Louis. That drought came to an end Saturday night when defenseman Kris Russell scored 1:32 into overtime for a 3-2 victory. The Blue Jackets also got a strong game in net from Mathieu Garon, who finished with 25 saves.

"We're grinding it and we'll see where we go," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We kept going. We're trying to keep ourselves up and keep fighting. We're not going to skill our way into this (playoff race). We're going to claw our way in it."

A season-high six-game winning streak has given way to three straight losses for Colorado, which has fallen four points behind Vancouver for the Northwest Division lead. A hat trick by Marian Gaborik on Sunday night doomed the Avalanche in a 3-1 loss to the Rangers.

"We've got to get back to basics," forward T.J. Galiardi said. "When we play a full 60 minutes is when we win games. Teams are jumping all over us at the start of games and it's hard to get yourself out of a two-goal hole. We can't keep playing like that or the losses are going to keep coming."

Who's Hot:
Columbus forward Kristian Huselius has five goals and 12 assists in his last 15 games. Captain Rick Nash has five goals and four assists in his last eight games. Forward R.J. Umberger has three goals and five assists in his last seven games.

Injury Report:
Blue Jackets defenseman Rostislav Klesla is out with a groin injury. Huselius and defensemen Milan Jurcina and Anton Stralman all missed Saturday's game with flu-like symptoms.

Avalanche forward Marek Svatos could return from a chest injury Tuesday. Defenseman Ruslan Salei (back) and forwards Milan Hejduk (knee), Ryan Stoa (shoulder), Matt Hendricks (ankle) and David Jones (torn ACL) are all on injured reserve. Salei and Hejduk have been skating.

Stat Pack:
When he returns to the lineup, Huselius will play in his 600th NHL game. He has 170 goals and 407 points for the Panthers, Flames and Blue Jackets. … The Avalanche play five of their seven games in February at the Pepsi Center and 16 of their final 28 overall on home ice.
Puck Drop:
Colorado has responded well whenever it's hit a bump in the road this season. This is the first time the Avalanche have lost three straight in regulation, and they will try to get back in the win column against a team they have played tough in Columbus.

"We've done alright with them this year, so hopefully we can continue that," defenseman Kyle Quincey said. "It's the little details that make you successful. It's about burying your chances and tightening up a little bit on the other teams' better players."

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