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Avs, Hawks get ready for Round 3

by David Kalan /

AVALANCHE (12-4-2) at BLACKHAWKS (9-5-2)

Last 10: Colorado 6-3-1; Chicago 5-4-1.

Season Series: The Avs and Hawks have split two games this season, with both ending in a shootout. Colorado took the last meeting, 4-3, after an eight-round affair on Nov. 6.

Big Story: In a brief trip outside the Mile High City, Colorado will try to bounce back from its first home loss of the season by looking to knock off Chicago at the United Center.

Team Scope:

Avalanche: Colorado comes off a loss that is disappointing, but one that had an air of inevitability about it. The Avs were the only team in the League to still sport an undefeated home record until Edmonton came to town on Sunday. The Oilers put the Avalanche behind the eight-ball early with three first-period goals, but Colorado showed feistiness, making it a one-goal game before Edmonton pulled away in the third.

If there is any major concern for the Avs right now it might be goalkeeper Craig Anderson, who was as impressive as any netminder early this season, but has suddenly lost three of his last four starts and is two weeks removed from his last regulation win. Despite his recent struggles, Anderson is still near the top of the League in wins and has a solid 2.32 goals against average, but a return to form -- and a few wins -- would be a nice confidence boost for the first-time starter.

Blackhawks: The Hawks have been inconsistent lately, but their last time out could be a big lift for an offense that's been struggling. Jonathan Toews returned to the lineup for the first time in 18 days, and scored a power-play goal in third period, as Chicago knocked off the Kings on Monday in the opener of a four-game homestand. Toews' goal was one of three for Chicago in the final frame, in what may have been a breakout period for the Hawks' slumping offense.

Chicago scored four goals in a game for the first time since Oct. 14. The Hawks like a different team with Toews in the lineup and perhaps with good reason -- the young captain had a three-game point streak before his concussion. Even more encouraging for the Hawks, however, is that the offense wasn't the only thing Chicago did impressively in the third period against L.A. The Hawks also limited the Kings to a mere two shots on goal in the final 20 minutes.

Who's Hot: The right wing has been a potent position for the Avs lately. Both Marek Svatos and David Jones are riding three-game point streaks. For Chicago, Kris Versteeg has five points in the last four games, while Patrick Sharp is right behind him with four points over the same stretch.

Injury Report: Darcy Tucker is expected to return to the lineup for Colorado, while the team is hopeful Milan Hejduk and Tom Preissing will also be back, the pair, as well as John-Michael Liles are all questionable for Wednesday. The Hawks will be without Dave Bolland, who is out indefinitely after having back surgery Tuesday.

Stat Pack: Scoring three goals in the third period Monday was a dramatic shift for Chicago, which struggled to score three goals in a game let alone a period. In fact, the Hawks had gone 33 periods without lighting the lamp three times, a feat they last accomplished in their 6-5 comeback win over Calgary on Oct. 12.
Puck Drop: After hosting the surprising Kings on Monday, Chicago will also see the Avs, Sharks and the suddenly-hot Maple Leafs before they hit the road. However, with the annual circus trip on the horizon, the Hawks will take a brutal six-game road swing through Western Canada and California. Chicago needs to take as many points as it can at the UC, but the Avs will give them no breaks in that pursuit. Colorado has only three regulation losses in its last 15 games, a stretch that includes a shootout in Chicago. The Hawks will be hard-pressed to defend their ice, but doing so against the first-place Avs is a tall order.
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