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Colorado Avalanche vs. Columbus Blue Jackets @NHLdotcom
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GAME: Colorado Avalanche (39-22-13-6) at Columbus Blue Jackets (24-44-8-4).

TIME: Friday, 7 p.m. EST.

The Colorado Avalanche have entered the playoffs as division champions for nine straight seasons. Their 10th straight title, however, might be in jeopardy.

The Avalanche look to snap their recent slump and take back sole possession of first place in the Northwest Division as they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Avalanche lost 5-4 in overtime to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday, dropping to 1-5-1-1 in their last eight games, including an 0-4 mark on the road.

"I don't think we were ready from the start," said defenseman Rob Blake, who failed to score a point for the seventh straight game. "We battled back here and there, and there were some funny bounces, but we needed two points, and we didn't get it."

Colorado is tied with Vancouver atop the Northwest. The Canucks play San Jose on Friday before wrapping up the regular season Saturday against Edmonton. The Avalanche end their season Sunday against Nashville.

Part of the problem for Colorado has been special teams. The Avalanche have allowed power-play goals in four straight games, including two against the Wild, who are third-worst in the league on the man advantage. The Avs are also scoreless in their last 16 power-play chances.

"We have to sharpen up (the special teams)," Colorado coach Tony Granato said. "We have plenty of guys to kill penalties, so it's not a personnel thing. It's something that we're not executing on right now, and obviously it's costing us points."

Injuries have also played a role. Colorado, which has dealt with injuries to Peter Forsberg and Andrei Nikolishin this season, is currently without Alex Tanguay.

The Blue Jackets lost 3-2 to the Western Conference-leading Detroit Red Wings on Monday. Trevor Letowski and Don MacLean scored for Columbus, which lost defenseman Rostislav Klesla for the rest of the season after he was checked into the open Detroit bench door jamb late in the third period by Kirk Maltby.

"You can't say he (Maltby) didn't see the door open because it was open for four seconds - we watched it on video," Columbus interim coach Gerard Gallant said. "He just drove him into the door."

Rick Nash did not score, leaving him tied for the league lead with Calgary's Jarome Iginla with 40 goals.

The Blue Jackets close out the season Saturday against Detroit, while Iginla and the Flames play Los Angleles on Friday and Anaheim on Sunday.

Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk has 39 goals, with games remaining against Pittsburgh on Friday and Tampa Bay on Saturday.

"If I score, I score; if I don't, I don't," Nash said. "I'm 19 years old. It's a scoring title. It'd be nice to win. I didn't expect to be around here, so I'm not really expecting to win it."

STANDINGS: Avalanche - 97 points, 1st place (tied), Northwest Division. Blue Jackets - 60 points, 4th place, 49 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Avalanche - Milan Hejduk, 35 goals; Joe Sakic and Tanguay, 54 assists; Sakic, 86 points; Peter Worrell, 177 PIM. Blue Jackets - Nash, 40 goals and 55 points; David Vyborny, 31 assists; Jody Shelley, 228 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 31): Avalanche - Power play: 20.5 percent (73 for 356), 3rd in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.8 percent (294 for 351), 19th. Blue Jackets - Power play: 14.2 percent (56 for 394), 24th. Penalty killing: 85.1 percent (280 for 329), 8th.

GOALTENDERS: Avalanche - David Aebischer (31-19-9, 4 SO, 2.09 GAA); Tommy Salo (18-20-7, 3, 2.57). Blue Jackets - Marc Denis (20-35-7, 5, 2.58); Fred Brathwaite (4-11-1, 0, 3.37).

SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 28; Blue Jackets, 5-4, OT. At Columbus, Jaroslav Spacek scored at 3:24 of overtime for the Blue Jackets, who got a goal and four assists from Vyborny. Tanguay had a goal and three assists for the Avalanche.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Avalanche - 20-8-7-5 on the road; Blue Jackets - 17-17-4-2 at home.

Associated Press
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