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Blackhawks try to secure third in Central at Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski / NHL.com

BLACKHAWKS (48-27-6) at AVALANCHE (38-31-12)

TV: TVA Sports 2, WGN, ALT

DENVER -- The Chicago Blackhawks want to end the regular season on a positive note heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, regardless of their opponent in the Western Conference First Round.

The Blackhawks (48-27-6), who play the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Saturday, would clinch the No. 3 seed in the Central Division with at least a point or if the Minnesota Wild lose to the St. Louis Blues.

Goalie Scott Darling will start against the Avalanche (38-31-12), who have won three of their past four games but have been eliminated from the postseason. They need a win to become the fifth team in the Central Division with at least 90 points.

The Blackhawks have lost three consecutive games, all by 2-1 scores. They've gone 0-for-11 on power plays in the past five games and allowed one power-play goal in three of the past four games.

"We've had some games in the last couple, three games for sure where we've been in that playoff position and it's almost like 'OK, we would like to move ahead,' ” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “Is it the all-out desperation that you're trying to get that spot or you're trying to finally clinch it? There's probably a little wiggle room that we probably left on the table.

"When the playoffs start this team gets excited and likes a challenge and looks forward to that time. You got to be careful about the on-off switch in just thinking that you're going to be fine, so let's make sure there's some pace to the game and some thought to it as well."

Quenneville said he's giving Darling the start because "he's won some big games for us and done some good things for us," and to give Corey Crawford some rest before the playoffs.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said the first round will be difficult regardless of the opponent.

"At the end of the day the first round -- I don't think any round is easy -- but in the first round teams come out flying," he said. "We've seen it many times in the past couple of years where one through eight is a crapshoot as to who may come out on top, so you have to be prepared for whatever comes our way this week. It comes down to how bad we want it and how prepared we are for it. It's so tight, no matter what matchup you get it's not going to be easy."

Here are the projected lineups:

BLACKHAWKS

Kris Versteeg - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Brandon Saad - Antoine Vermette - Kyle Baun

Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Patrick Sharp

Joakim Nordstrom - Marcus Kruger - Teuvo Teravainen

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Michael Paliotta - Michal Rozsival

Scott Darling

Corey Crawford

Scratched: Andrew Desjardins, David Rundblad

Injured: Daniel Carcillo (upper body), Patrick Kane (clavicle) Brad Richards (upper body), Kimmo Timonen (upper body)

AVALANCHE

Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Alex Tanguay

John Mitchell - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Joey Hishon

Jordan Caron - Freddie Hamilton - Daniel Briere

Jan Hejda - Zach Redmond

Duncan Siemens - Tyson Barrie

Nick Holden - Nate Guenin

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

Scratched: None

Injured: Patrick Bordeleau (fractured kneecap), Dennis Everberg (shoulder), Erik Johnson (knee), Jamie McGinn (back surgery), Nathan MacKinnon (broken foot), Borna Rendulic (broken leg), Brad Stuart (leg), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Jesse Winchester (concussion)

Status report: Paliotta will make his NHL debut. He was Chicago's third-round pick (No. 70) in the 2011 NHL Draft and led Vermont this season with 36 points (nine goals, 27 assists) in 41 games ... Siemens also will make his NHL debut. He was recalled Friday from Lake Erie of the American Hockey League after Stuart was injured Thursday against the Winnipeg Jets. Siemens was the Avalanche's second first-round pick (No. 11) in the 2011 NHL Draft. He had six assists and 57 assists in 51 games with Lake Erie.

Who's hot: Hossa has one goal and five assists in the past seven games ... O'Reilly has seven goals and eight assists in 13 games.

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