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Preview: Avalanche at Blackhawks

Chicago in position to clinch playoff berth for ninth straight season

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

AVALANCHE (20-47-3) at BLACKHAWKS (46-20-5)



Avalanche team scope 

The Colorado Avalanche are looking to split a two-game road trip that began with a 5-1 loss at the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. The Avalanche are 3-3-0 in their past six games, but went 2-11-1 in their previous 14. Colorado, which got forward Matt Nieto back from a knee injury in Detroit, played its past two games against the Red Wings. That was a factor in coach Jared Bednar's decision to start goalie Jeremy Smith against the Chicago Blackhawks. Calvin Pickard started the previous five games, including both against Detroit. Pickard allowed one goal in the a 3-1 win at Pepsi Center on Wednesday, earning him the start at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday. "There was some thought of [starting] Smith in [Detroit], because that's his hometown, but we felt [Pickard] kind of earned that start," Bednar said. "He did a nice job against them at home, so we went with him [Saturday] knowing they were going to split this back-to-back." Smith will play for the first time since he allowed three goals in a 3-0 loss against the St. Louis Blues at Pepsi Center on March 5.


Blackhawks team scope 

The Blackhawks can clinch their ninth consecutive Stanley Cup Playoff berth depending on the outcome of the Los Angeles Kings game at the Calgary Flames (9:30 p.m. ET, SN1, SNW, FS-W, NHL.TV). The Blackhawks will get in with a regulation or overtime win against the Avalanche if the Kings lose in any fashion or win in a shootout. Chicago also can clinch with a shootout win if the Kings lose in any fashion, or by earning one point if the Kings lose in regulation. The Blackhawks hope to extend their five-point lead on the Minnesota Wild for first place in the Central Division and Western Conference. "I see them finding a way to get some points here," coach Joel Quenneville said of the Avalanche. "We still think they're a very dangerous team, capable of winning every single night and [they have] real balance to their lineup." Quenneville said either Niklas Hjalmarsson or Johnny Oduya likely would get a night off for rest, but he didn't say which defenseman would be scratched. Right wing Marian Hossa (lower body) is likely to return after missing a 2-1 overtime win at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. Goalie Scott Darling will start.


Avalanche projected lineup

Gabriel Landeskog -- Matt Duchene -- Rene Bourque

Sven Andrighetto -- Nathan MacKinnon -- Mikko Rantanen

Mikhail Grigorenko -- Carl Soderberg -- Blake Comeau

Joe Colborne -- J.T. Compher -- Matt Nieto

Erik Johnson -- Mark Barberio

Francois Beauchemin -- Tyson Barrie

Anton Lindholm -- Fedor Tyutin

Jeremy Smith

Calvin Pickard

Scratched: John Mitchell, Cody Goloubef, Patrick Wiercioch

Injured: Semyon Varlamov (groin/hip), Nikita Zadorov (ankle)


Blackhawks projected lineup

John Hayden -- Jonathan Toews -- Richard Panik

Artemi Panarin -- Nick Schmaltz -- Patrick Kane

Ryan Hartman -- Tanner Kero -- Marian Hossa

Tomas Jurco -- Marcus Kruger -- Jordin Tootoo

Duncan Keith -- Niklas Hjalmarsson

Michal Kempny -- Brent Seabrook

Brian Campbell -- Trevor van Riemsdyk

Scott Darling

Corey Crawford

Scratched: Dennis Rasmussen, Johnny Oduya, Michal Rozsival, Andrew Desjardins

Injured: Artem Anisimov (lower body)


Status report

If Hossa plays, look for either Desjardins, Tootoo or Jurco to come out. … Grigorenko, who was scratched in Detroit on Saturday, will play in place of Mitchell.


Who's hot

Kane has 17 points (11 goals, six assists) in the past 11 games. … Panarin has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) the past 11 games. … Hayden scored his first NHL goal Saturday in his second game. … Barrie has five points (one goal, four assists) in the past six games.

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