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Blackhawks back from break to host Avalanche

by Brian Hedger

AVALANCHE (23-10-3) at BLACKHAWKS (26-7-6)


Last 10: Colorado 4-3-3; Chicago 6-2-2

Season series: The Colorado Avalanche beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-1 on Nov. 19 at Pepsi Center in the first of five games between the new Central Division rivals. The next three games will be played at United Center, starting with this one.

Big story: Despite going into Christmas break with an impressive victory against the New Jersey Devils, the Blackhawks (58 points) were surpassed by the Anaheim Ducks (59 points) in the Western Conference and overall NHL standings. The Avalanche (49 points) dropped back-to-back games in shootouts heading into the break and sit third in their division, still solidly in the picture for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Team Scope:

Avalanche: The break also broke up a three-game road stretch for Colorado, which has a seven-game homestand on tap after playing the Blackhawks. The Avalanche aren't skating before flying to Chicago on Friday morning and hope to prevent their winless streak from reaching three straight.

The 5-4 shootout loss Monday against the San Jose Sharks was Colorado's first defeat of any kind this season when leading after the first period. Colorado overcame a 3-2 deficit with back-to-back goals in the last two minutes of regulation, scored within 12 seconds of each other by Erik Johnson and Jamie McGinn. San Jose's Joe Pavelski scored the game-tying goal with 19.6 seconds left in regulation to force overtime and the eventual shootout.

"It was a strange game probably from the perspective of both teams," Johnson said. "A very strange game at the end. It was a high to tie it, a high to go ahead and then a crashing low when they tied it. There's not a lot to look at and be happy with. I'm glad for the point, but disappointed we didn't get the win."

Blackhawks: Chicago bounced back strong from a shootout loss on home ice against the Vancouver Canucks by beating the Devils 5-2 on Monday night, led by a pair of goals from Patrick Sharp.

If any team needed a few days off to recharge, it was the Blackhawks. After a summer that was even shorter than usual for teams that win the Stanley Cup, Chicago picked up right where it left off and cranked through a tough first half of the regular season. Chicago comes out of the break with three challenging games in four days, starting with a weekend back-to-back set against the Avalanche at home Friday followed by a short trip Saturday to play the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center.

"It's nice going into the break [with a win] and we're going to enjoy this break, but it is what it is ... we're halfway there," defenseman Duncan Keith said after the win against the Devils. "We're not anywhere yet."

Who's hot: Johnson has scored goals in back-to-back games and in four of Colorado's past five games. Matt Duchene has points in five straight games (two goals and eight assists) … Sharp has 10 goals in the past 14 games and Patrick Kane has recorded at least a point in 12 straight games for Chicago.

Injury report: Forward Alex Tanguay (knee) is out for the Avalanche … Goalies Corey Crawford (lower body) and Nikolai Khabibulin (lower body) are out for the Blackhawks.

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