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Avalanche's Johnson back from suspension

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- Defenseman Erik Johnson returns to the Colorado Avalanche lineup Sunday against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Pepsi Center after completing a two-game suspension for slashing New York Islanders forward Frans Nielsen in a Feb. 8 game.

"I'm excited," Johnson said. "It was tough going into the Olympic break knowing the first two games coming back I'd have to sit out. It wasn't the best news to hear. Any time you're not playing, it's hard. We're hockey players and we belong on the ice, so it was tough news to get. I had never been suspended before. I wanted to be out there playing, especially because it was a longer break with the Olympics."

The Avalanche went 1-1-0 without Johnson, who has seven goals, 17 assists and a plus-5 rating in 58 games while averaging a team-high 22:48 in ice time.

"He's been our best defenseman all year," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "It's good to have him back. He's excited about coming back as well. He's worked hard and it's been a long wait for him."

The Avalanche has eight healthy defensemen, so Andre Benoit and Ryan Wilson will sit out against the Lightning.

"It's not an easy decision because they're all playing really well," Roy said.

The Lightning didn't have a morning skate after playing Saturday against the Dallas Stars. Goalie Ben Bishop made 39 saves in Tampa Bay's 4-2 win and Martin St. Louis scored two goals, giving him four goals and three assists in a five-game point-scoring streak.

Center Steven Stamkos remains out with a broken tibia, but Valtteri Filppula might return after missing three games with a non-displaced fracture in his right ankle.

"The dangerous thing with Tampa is they're missing important players," Roy said. "You could go and say they're not going to be as dangerous, but this is a good hockey team. This is a hockey team that works hard every night. I watched the game they played [Saturday] against Dallas. They work hard and they're a little like us, they rely on a good goalie. It's going to be important to respect these guys and to play really hard."

If Bishop starts again, it would be the third time he will have played both games in back-to-back situations. If not, Kristers Gudlevskis will make his NHL debut. Gudlevskis is expected to be returned to the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League after the game because goalie Anders Lindback likely will rejoin the Lightning after completing a two-game conditioning assignmen. He missed four games with an ankle injury.

Here are the projected lineups for the Avalanche and Lightning:


Ondrej Palat -- Tyler Johnson -- Martin St. Louis

Ryan Malone -- Alex Killorn -- Teddy Purcell

Tom Pyatt -- Nate Thompson -- B.J. Crombeen

J.T. Brown -- Vladislav Namestnikov -- Nikita Kucherov

Matt Carle -- Radko Gudas

Victor Hedman -- Sami Salo

Eric Brewer -- Mark Barberio

Ben Bishop

Kristers Gudlevskis

Scratched: Keith Aulie, Michael Kostka

Injured: Valtteri Filppula (ankle), Steven Stamkos (tibia)


Ryan O'Reilly -- Matt Duchene -- PA Parenteau

Gabriel Landeskog -- Paul Stastny -- Nathan MacKinnon

Maxime Talbot -- John Mitchell -- Jamie McGinn

Cody McLeod -- Marc-Andre Cliche -- Patrick Bordeleau

Jan Hejda -- Erik Johnson

Nick Holden -- Cory Sarich

Nate Guenin -- Tyson Barrie

Semyon Varlamov

Jean-Sebastien Giguere

Scratched: Andre Benoit, Ryan Wilson

Injured: David Van Der Gulik (head), Alex Tanguay (hip surgery)

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