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Chicago Blackhawks vs. Colorado Avalanche @NHLdotcom
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GAME: Chicago Blackhawks (20-38-10-6) at Colorado Avalanche (38-20-12-5).

TIME: Tuesday, 9 p.m. EST.

If the Colorado Avalanche lose to the Chicago Blackhawks, they will have dropped four in a row for the first time in more than a year.

A win, however, will give the Avs their 10th straight postseason appearance.

Colorado looks to wrap up a playoff spot and move closer to winning the Northwest Division crown when it hosts Chicago.

The Avs have lost a season high-tying three in a row to fall six points behind the Detroit Red Wings for first place in the Western Conference, but they haven't lost any ground in the division race.

The Vancouver Canucks, who are four points behind Colorado, have also lost three in a row and are winless in their last five.

The Avs, who haven't dropped four straight since Jan. 2-16, 2003, fell for the third consecutive time on Saturday, 5-2 on the road to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Colorado was again involved in a game in which one of its players absorbed a violent hit from an opponent.

Defenseman Ossi Vaananen was shaken up but not injured after being slashed in the head by Toronto's Wade Belak. The players were jostling in front of the Avs net when Belak whipped around and violently hit Vaananen in the side of the head and neck with his stick.

Belak was ejected and given a match penalty for attempting to injure.

"That has got to stop. I think every team has to have a meeting and talk about this stuff because we can't let this happen," Avs forward Teemu Selanne said. "The guys are so strong these days. I know the intensity level is high every game, and the coaches tell us to play hard and finish your checks, be tough, but there is a line between stupidity and playing hard."

On March 8, Vancouver forward Todd Bertuzzi sucker-punched Colorado rookie Steve Moore - leaving him hospitalized with broken vertebrae and a concussion.

The Avs will be looking to clinch a playoff spot against a Chicago team they've outscored 14-7 in winning all three meetings this season. Colorado has won seven straight in the series.

The Blackhawks are coming off two straight overtime games, beating Vancouver 4-3 on Friday and skating to a 2-2 tie with the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday.

Chicago hasn't gone unbeaten in three straight since Feb. 3-14.

Michael Leighton made 39 saves Sunday - nine in the extra period - to help the Blackhawks earn the draw. In overtime, Leighton made two point-blank saves while the Coyotes were on a power play, then he stopped a two-on-none break.

"Leights was the story of the game," Chicago coach Brian Sutter said. "The overtime said it all."

STANDINGS: Blackhawks - 56 points, 4th place, 43 PB, Central Division. Avalanche - 93 points, 1st place, Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Blackhawks - Tyler Arnason and Kyle Calder, 21 goals; Arnason, 31 assists and 52 points; Travis Moen, 126 PIM. Avalanche - Milan Hejduk, 35 goals; Alex Tanguay, 54 assists; Joe Sakic, 84 points; Peter Worrell, 177 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 21): Blackhawks - Power play: 15.7 percent (51 for 325), 19th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.6 percent (291 for 344), 10th. Avalanche - Power play: 21.5 percent (73 for 340), 3rd. Penalty killing: 84.3 percent (279 for 331), 14th (tied).

GOALTENDERS: Blackhawks - Leighton (6-18-7, 2 SO, 3.03 GAA); Adam Munro (1-2-1, 3.20). Avalanche - David Aebischer (30-18-9, 4, 2.11); Tommy Salo (18-18-6, 3, 2.54).

SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 3-0.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 11; Avalanche, 5-4, OT. At Chicago, Tanguay scored 3:42 into the extra period after Colorado erased a 3-0 deficit.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Blackhawks - 7-24-4-1 on the road; Avalanche - 18-13-5-1 at home.

Associated Press
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