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Avalanche turn to goalie Pickard against Blackhawks

by Rick Sadowski

BLACKHAWKS (23-10-2) AT AVALANCHE (13-13-8)


DENVER -- Colorado Avalanche rookie goalie Calvin Pickard will start against the Chicago Blackhawks for the second time in a month at Pepsi Center on Saturday, hoping to play as well, but with a different outcome.

Pickard made 42 saves on Nov. 26 in the Avalanche's 3-2 loss to the Blackhawks when Bryan Bickell broke a 2-2 tie with 5:17 remaining in the third period. The Avalanche were outshot 45-29.

"Last time I had a pretty good game against them," Pickard said. "It's too bad we lost at the end of the game. It's always a fun game between these two teams."

The Avalanche (13-13-8) have won a season-best three games in a row and have earned at least one point in six consecutive games (4-0-2).

They're carrying three goalies and coach Patrick Roy said a decision about what to do with Pickard would be made in the next "four or five days." Roy said Pickard, 22, needs to play on a regular basis, suggesting the Avalanche will probably send him back to the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League and hand the backup role back to Reto Berra, who hasn't played since a relief appearance Dec. 5.

Semyon Varlamov, a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, made 26 saves in a 5-0 win against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday after missing six games with his third groin injury and the Avalanche want to make sure he's completely healthy.

"Calvin will play tonight and after we'll make decisions," Roy said. "The way he's been playing he certainly deserves that start tonight. Everybody knows our plan is to allow Calvin to play a lot of games. If he's going to stay here and be on the bench it was crystal clear he's not going to be here. If he plays, he will stay here, but if he's not playing we believe that it's better for him to go to the minors and play a lot of games."

Pickard leads the Avalanche in wins (six), goals-against average (2.06) and save percentage (.939), but said he will do whatever the Avalanche ask of him.

"I just want to take advantage of the opportunities I have up here and tonight's another one," he said. "I feel like I can play at this level, but it's a process. I'm still young, [Varlamov] is an unbelievable goalie and he deserves to play."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville didn't know much about Pickard before seeing him make a number of acrobatic saves against the Blackhawks in the previous game between the teams.

"For a rookie coming into the League he's played very well," Quenneville said. "He sees a lot of pucks. Big, square, he kind of reminded me of how Varlamov played against us last year."

The Central Division-leading Blackhawks (23-10-2) left Chicago early Saturday and arrived in Denver about an hour before hitting the ice for morning skate. NHL teams are restricted from traveling the day after Christmas. The Avalanche did the same last season but skipped a morning skate and lost 7-2 in Chicago.

"I guess you could say last year Colorado paid that price," Quenneville said of the travel schedule. "That's the way it is. We got here and had a morning skate, so it's like a regular game from here on out. You should be fresh and excited about playing again."

Here are the projected lineups:


Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Patrick Sharp - Kris Versteeg - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Daniel Carcillo

Joakim Nordstrom - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

David Rundblad - Tim Erixon

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Scratched: None

Injured: Brad Richards (upper body), Michal Rozsival (lower body), Trevor van Riemsdyk (fractured kneecap)


Maxime Talbot - Matt Duchene - Nathan MacKinnon

Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Daniel Briere

Alex Tanguay - John Mitchell - Jarome Iginla

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Dennis Everberg

Jan Hejda - Erik Johnson

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Brad Stuart - Zach Redmond

Calvin Pickard

Semyon Varlamov

Scratched: Reto Berra, Nick Holden

Injured: Patrick Bordeleau (fractured kneecap), Jamie McGinn (back surgery), Ben Street (hand), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Jesse Winchester (concussion)

Status report: Richards and Rozsival didn't make the one-game trip. "We knew they weren't playing today so we left them back," Quenneville said. "I think they're real close." He said they could be available Monday against the Nashville Predators.

Who's hot: Kane has four goals and six assists in his past seven games ... Johnson has a goal in three consecutive games. He has five goals and one assist in his past five games ... Tanguay has three goals and two assists in the past three games.

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