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Avalanche, Wild staying in race despite injuries

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild, who each have overcome significant injuries to remain in the hunt for Stanley Cup Playoff berths, play for the final time this season Thursday at Pepsi Center.

The Avalanche have lost 110 man-games to injuries and the Wild 144, yet each is in a heated race for third place in the Central Division. Colorado enters with 71 points in 52 games while fourth-place Minnesota has 64 points in 55 games. Each team has gone 9-3-1 in January.

Avalanche right wing Alex Tanguay has returned to the lineup after missing 36 games with knee and hip injuries, while left wing Zach Parise is back with the Wild after sitting out 14 games with a foot injury. Tanguay has a game-winning goal and an assist in two games since rejoining the lineup. Parise has a game-winning goal and two assists in three games since coming back.

The Avalanche are 14-1-0 with Tanguay, who will play his first home game since he was injured Nov. 2 against the Montreal Canadiens.

"I'm just happy to be back and I hope we keep playing the same way that we have," Tanguay said. "For me, whether I play on the road or at home I'm just happy to get back. It'll be nice to play in front of the home crowd. It's always exciting to play at home."

The Wild still are without goalie Josh Harding, forward Mikko Koivu and defenseman Jared Spurgeon, but they've gone 1-0-1 in the first two games of a four-game road trip and are 4-1-1 in their past six games.

Spurgeon, who will miss his 13th game because of a lower-body injury, took part in the morning skate and could be available Saturday against the Calgary Flames. Koivu, who will miss his 12th game with a broken ankle, did some skating with the Wild's strength coach.

"We've hit the reset button," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We have to look at this as a completely new challenge, a different challenge. We have to make sure that we're coming into this game with the same kind of battle level and the same kind of mindset with how we're going to play the game. We should have confidence in our game. We haven't played into other teams' game, we've forced the issue, we've dictated. With that we've obviously been pretty strong."

The Wild have been getting strong play from rookie goalie Darcy Kuemper, who will make his ninth consecutive start Thursday. After posting a 7-10-0 record with Iowa of the American Hockey League the first half of the season, Kuemper has gone 6-3-1 with one shutout, a 2.26 goals-against average and .924 save percentage with Minnesota.

Here are the projected lineups for the Wild and Avalanche:


Zach Parise - Charlie Coyle - Nino Niederreiter

Dany Heatley - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Matt Cooke - Kyle Brodziak - Justin Fontaine

Erik Haula - Torrey Mitchell - Mike Rupp

Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella - Nate Prosser

Keith Ballard - Clayton Stoner

Darcy Kuemper

Niklas Backstrom

Scratched: Stephane Veilleux, Jason Zucker

Injured: Josh Harding (ill), Mikko Koivu (ankle), Jared Spurgeon (foot)


Ryan O'Reilly - Matt Duchene - Jamie McGinn

Gabriel Landeskog - Paul Stastny - Alex Tanguay

Maxime Talbot - Nathan MacKinnon - John Mitchell

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Patrick Bordeleau

Jan Hejda - Erik Johnson

Andre Benoit - Nate Guenin

Nick Holden - Tyson Barrie

Semyon Varlamov

Jean-Sebastien Giguere

Scratched: PA Parenteau, Ryan Wilson

Injured: Cory Sarich (back), David Van Der Gulik (head)

Notes: Parenteau will be a healthy scratch for the second game in a row. He had one assist in three games after returning from a sprained knee. "Unfortunately in this business when you get hurt sometimes it gives an opportunity for others to show something and they've been doing just that. We're very happy with our lines," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "I know that PA is going to help us in the near future. It happens to every player to go through a situation like this. It's the beauty of having everyone healthy right now. It makes my job tougher."

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