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Ducks' Vatanen returning to lineup against Avalanche

by Curtis Zupke

AVALANCHE (33-26-11) at DUCKS (45-20-7)

TV: ALT, FS-W

ANAHEIM -- Defenseman Sami Vatanen likely will return to the lineup and goalie Frederik Andersen will start for the Anaheim Ducks when they play the Colorado Avalanche on Friday at Honda Center.

Vatanen has missed 15 games because of a lower-body injury sustained Feb. 15 when his legs hit the boards awkwardly.

"It's been a long four weeks for me sitting there and eating popcorn [for the games]," Vatanen said. "It's a fun time to back in. I think this week I've been feeling really good and I've been ready to play and I'm just waiting my turn to get back in the lineup."

Vatanen is a quarterback for Anaheim's power play, which went 3-for-31 in his absence. He leads the Ducks with seven power-play goals. Defenseman James Wisniewski has filled the power-play role. He has one power-play assist but has not scored since he was re-acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline.

"We're not putting him in until he's 100-percent ready, so my expectations are that he plays exactly the way he was before he left so you don't leave any room for excuses," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said of Vatanen. "I assume he'll play that way. I'll assume he'll be very excited to get back in too."

Andersen was the first goaltender off the ice after the morning skate. He has played three times since he was cleared Feb. 27 to return from a neck injury, largely because goalie John Gibson has gotten hot with wins in six of seven decisions. Boudreau has said he has a plan for his two goalies. Andersen sounded reluctant but understood when asked about that plan.

"We'll see," Andersen said. "I always [want to] play more. But, yeah, that's how it is. We have two goalies that need to be ready for the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs if something happens, and I'm comfortable going in with both me and [Gibson] ready for that."

Asked if he can alter Boudreau's plan by playing well, Andersen said, "I don't really feel like I want to mess it up for him but I want to make it harder. That's my mindset. I don't want to give him too many headaches, but I want to give him a hard time picking. That's a good problem to have."

Boudreau, who is in the position of riding a hot Gibson while also keeping Andersen ready, sounded as if it were an easy decision to go with Andersen, the presumptive No. 1.

"He's a great goaltender," Boudreau said. "He's won 30 games for us this year. He had the quickest wins to 50 in the history of the National Hockey League, tied with one guy [Bill Durnan]. How could you be worried when you put him in?"

Colorado did not skate after it beat the Arizona Coyotes 5-2 on Thursday for its third straight win to get within seven points of the Winnipeg Jets for the second wild card from the Western Conference.

The Avalanche are expected to start Semyon Varlamov in goal.

Colorado is 2-4-2 this season in the second game of a back-to-back set.

Here are the projected lineups:

AVALANCHE

John Mitchell - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla

Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Alex Tanguay

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Dennis Everberg

Jordan Caron - Freddie Hamilton - Daniel Briere

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Jan Hejda - Zach Redmond

Brad Stuart - Nick Holden

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

Scratched: Joey Hishon

Injured: Jesse Winchester (head), Jamie McGinn (back), Erik Johnson (knee), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Nathan MacKinnon (foot), Borna Rendulic (leg), Patrick Bordeleau (knee)

DUCKS

Patrick Maroon - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry

Matt Beleskey - Ryan Kesler - Kyle Palmieri

Andrew Cogliano - Nate Thompson - Jakob Silfverberg

Jiri Sekac - Rickard Rakell - Emerson Etem

Hampus Lindholm - Francois Beauchemin

Cam Fowler - Sami Vatanen

Simon Despres - James Wisniewski

Frederik Andersen

John Gibson

Scratched: Tomas Fleischmann, Korbinian Holzer, Clayton Stoner

Injured: Tim Jackman (lower body)

Status report: It appears Sekac will play after he was scratched Sunday. … Jackman might start skating soon, Boudreau said.

Who's hot: Iginla has four goals in the past seven games. … In his past seven games Landeskog has four goals and nine points. … Silfverberg has two goals and two assists in his past three games. … Maroon has three points in his past two games.

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