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Blackhawks-Avalanche Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Chicago Blackhawks (23-39-11) at Colorado Avalanche (40-26-8).

TIME: Monday, 9 p.m. EDT.

The Colorado Avalanche open a critical five-game homestand and hope to tighten the Northwest Division race as they host the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Avalanche are in sixth place in the Western Conference, only four points behind the Northwest-leading Calgary Flames but also just two points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers for the eighth and final spot. Colorado plays just one team in playoff contention on this homestand - San Jose - while also hosting St. Louis, Minnesota and Phoenix.

Colorado failed to gain a point for the first time in six games with Friday's 6-3 loss at Calgary, but more importantly, missed an opportunity to join the Flames atop the Northwest Division.

Joe Sakic scored a pair of first-period goals 25 seconds apart, but the Avalanche struggled with puck possession against the Flames' aggressive forechecking in the second period, when Calgary netted three goals.

"When you spend that much time in your zone running around, (the puck's) bound to be in the back of your net sooner or later," Avalanche defenseman Rob Blake said.

Sakic has eight goals and nine assists during a nine-game points streak. With his next tally, Sakic will tie Hall of Famer Mike Bossy for 17th place on the all-time list with 573 goals.

Sakic has 19 career goals against the Blackhawks.

Chicago's bid for its first three-game winning streak since Nov. 11-19 was thwarted with a 5-2 defeat Saturday at Columbus. Backup goaltender Craig Anderson failed to protect a pair of one-goal leads and allowed three goals in a 10:43 span of the third period.

"Our defense was asleep at the wheel - probably the worst game they've played as a group this year," Blackhawks coach Trent Yawney said. "There's no excuse for that."

Brandon Bochenski and Kyle Calder scored for the Blackhawks, who are 4-for-27 on the power play their last six games after going 0-for-26 the previous seven.

The Blackhawks are trying to avoid consecutive 40-loss seasons for the first time since 1987-89.

STANDINGS: Blackhawks - 57 points, 4th place, 53 PB, Central Division. Avalanche - 88 points, 2nd place, 4 PB, Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Blackhawks - Mark Bell, 22 goals; Calder, 32 assists and 53 points; Matthew Barnaby, 163 PIM. Avalanche - Marek Svatos, 32 goals; Sakic and Alex Tanguay, 48 assists; Sakic, 78 points; Ian Laperriere, 109 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Blackhawks - Power play: 12.3 percent (46 for 373), 30th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.0 percent (421 for 501), 7th (tied). Avalanche - Power play: 19.3 percent (83 for 430), 5th. Penalty killing: 83.8 percent (336 for 401), 10th (tied).

GOALTENDERS: Blackhawks - Nikolai Khabibulin (15-22-5, 0 SO, 3.29 GAA); Anderson (5-12-3, 1, 3.44). Avalanche - Peter Budaj (12-9-6, 2, 2.85); Vitaly Kolesnik (3-3-0, 0, 3.24).

SEASON SERIES: Blackhawks, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: March 9; Avalanche, 2-1. At Chicago, Antti Laaksonen's goal 8:14 into the second period snapped a tie and proved to be the game-winner for the Avalanche. Budaj turned aside 26 shots for Colorado, while Khabibulin made 22 saves for Chicago.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Blackhawks - 10-21-6 on the road; Avalanche - 22-8-6 at home.

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