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Avs want to add to cushion in West race vs. Canucks

by Eric Goodman
AVALANCHE (42-29-7) at CANUCKS (48-27-4)

Last 10 -- Colorado 3-6-1; Vancouver 5-4-1

Season series --
This is the final regular-season meeting between these Northwest Division rivals. The Avs won the first game of the series, 3-0, on Oct. 3 in Denver, while the Canucks went on to take four straight from Colorado by a combined score of 22-8. 

Big story --
The Avalanche have four games left on their schedule and hold a two-point lead over the ninth-place Calgary Flames for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference. Two more wins by Colorado would guarantee its first playoff appearance since the 2007-08 season. One Avs win combined with a Calgary loss at any point during the rest of the season would also achieve the same result for Colorado.

Team Scope:

Avalanche -- Colorado holds its playoff fate in its own hands, even though it dropped four straight before a 5-4 overtime win against the Sharks on Sunday. A playoff berth would cap a remarkable one-season turnaround for the Avs, who finished with a conference-low 69 points last season.

A bit of bad news struck in Denver on Sunday as forward Peter Mueller, one of the Avs' hottest players, had to be helped off the ice by teammates after receiving a hard hit by Sharks defenseman Rob Blake. It was ruled on Monday that Mueller suffered a concussion and he won't be traveling with the Avs on their upcoming two-game road trip.

"Peter has been an important player for us and a very useful player since the trade," coach Joe Sacco said Monday. "Like we've done all year long, we've got to rally around it."

Canucks -- Vancouver clinched its second straight Northwest Division title and third in the last four seasons with a 4-3 overtime victory against Minnesota on Sunday. There is not much left for the Canucks to play for except a slim shot at taking over the Blackhawks' spot for second place in the West. Also, center Henrik Sedin is gunning for the NHL's scoring title as his 106 points leads Washington's Alex Ovechkin by two going into Tuesday's games.
The Canucks received their share of bad news Sunday as their top-scoring defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (43 points) had to leave the ice in the third period.

"He tweaked his knee and will be re-evaluated," head coach Alain Vigneault said. "I'm not really concerned. I don't think it's anything major."

Who’s hot -- Mueller had two goals and an assist for Colorado on Sunday, before leaving the game in the third. Henrik Sedin tallied an assist on Sunday and now has registered points in seven of his last eight games for Vancouver.

Injury report --
Center Matt Hendricks (head) returned for the Avs on Sunday, but Mueller was ruled as being out indefinitely for both Tuesday's game and Wednesday's affair at Edmonton. David Jones (knee) is still on injured reserve for Colorado. … Word on Ehrhoff's status for Vancouver has still not been given, but Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder) did return to the lineup on Sunday, while Willie Mitchell (concussion) and Steve Bernier (sports hernia) remain on injured reserve.

Stat pack --
Mueller had 20 points (9-11-20) in 15 games for the Avs after coming over from the Coyotes at the trade deadline. The third-year forward had only 17 points over 54 games for Phoenix earlier this season.

Puck drop --
The Avs might actually benefit from playing a top-notch team like the Canucks this late in the season, since it's expected that coach Vigneault will give many of his superstar players somewhat of a breather before heading into the playoffs.
"I don't think I'm going to look to rest other guys, but I might look to find ways for guys who haven't played as much to maybe get a little more ice time," Vigneault said.

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