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Avalanche's Varlamov a problem for Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger

AVALANCHE (24-23-11) at BLACKHAWKS (35-18-5)


CHICAGO -- The Colorado Avalanche are back in the Windy City and goalie Semyon Varlamov is going to start, and that usually means trouble for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Varlamov always seems to save his best for the Blackhawks, who will face him for the second time this season at United Center on Friday. Varlamov made 54 saves in a 2-0 Colorado win Jan. 6 to earn his second career shutout against Chicago, setting an NHL record for most saves in a road shutout.

The victory improved his career record against the Blackhawks to 8-3-0 with a 2.01 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in 12 games.

"I think they do," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said when asked if goalies can get into the heads of opponents. "A lot of players who play against [the Montreal Canadiens] and see Carey Price, I'm sure he's in their heads. That certainly could be the case. When I was playing, sometimes you just feel very confident against a team or against certain players, and it seems [Varlamov is against Chicago]."

Varlamov, who will make his 15th consecutive start, went 4-0-0 with a 1.59 GAA and .960 save percentage in five games against Chicago last season. He's won four starts in a row against the Blackhawks dating to last season, and Colorado has lost all three games he didn't start against Chicago the past two seasons.

Varlamov's 54 saves on Jan. 6 were the most in Varlamov's career, the most in Avalanche history and second in franchise history, behind Ron Tugnutt's 70-save performance for the Quebec Nordiques on March 21, 1991, at the Boston Bruins.

Roy hopes Varlamov doesn't get nearly as much action this time against the Blackhawks, whose 34.6 shots per game leads the NHL.

"No one left the building very happy [last time], when you give up [54] shots," Roy said. "It'd be a nice objective for us as a team to cut down on the shots-against against these guys. One thing when I look at Chicago is they put a lot of shots on net, and that’s something we've tried to teach our players as well, like, if it works for Chicago it could work for us. Putting a lot of shots on net, sometimes good things happen."

Quality trumps quantity, however, when it comes to shots. The Blackhawks might know that better than any other team in the League. They've lost six times in games they finished with 40 or more shots, and four of those games ended in regulation. They are 0-1-1 in two games when they've had at least 50 shots.

The second of those games was the shutout loss to Colorado, in which Chicago finished with a 54-24 edge in shots.

"He seems to play well [against the Blackhawks]," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said of Varlamov. "That was one of those games where you could say it was a goalie win for their team and him. I just think that you've got to find a way to get inside. If he sees the puck, he's an excellent goaltender. Even though you get that quantity of shots, you've still got to get higher quality by getting in front of him and trying to be disruptive in that area and make it a little more challenging for him."

Goalie Corey Crawford will start for Chicago, which got some good news at the morning skate. Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who has been out since mid-November because of a fractured patella, took part in all the skating drills. There isn't a timetable for his return, but Quenneville said van Riemsdyk turned a corner in his recovery this week.

Here are the projected lineups:


Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Nathan MacKinnon

Maxime Talbot - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla

Alex Tanguay - John Mitchell - Dennis Everberg

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Paul Carey

Jan Hejda - Zach Redmond

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Brad Stuart - Nick Holden

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

Scratched: Daniel Briere, Stefan Elliott

Injured: Patrick Bordeleau (fractured kneecap), Erik Johnson (knee), Jamie McGinn (back surgery), Borna Rendulic (broken leg), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Jesse Winchester (concussion)


Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Kris Versteeg - Brad Richards - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Ryan Hartman

Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Duncan Keith - Michal Rozsival

Kyle Cumiskey - Brent Seabrook

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Scratched: Daniel Carcillo, David Rundblad, Tim Erixon

Injured: Trevor van Riemsdyk (patella surgery)

Status report: Carcillo wasn't at the skate and won't be at the game. He is attending the funeral of former Blackhawks defenseman Steve Montador, who died Feb. 15. … Roy said Carey will stay in the lineup primarily because of the speed and the energy he provides.

Who's hot: Saad has two goals and three assists during his four-game point streak. … MacKinnon has an assist in four straight games.

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