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Panthers-Avalanche Preview @NHL

The Colorado Avalanche aren't accustomed to being on the outskirts of the playoff race. That's the only place the Florida Panthers have ended up the last seven seasons.

In danger of matching their longest home losing streak of the season, the Avalanche face the Panthers on Tuesday night in the teams' first meeting in three years.

Colorado (25-24-4) is eight points behind Vancouver and Minnesota, who are tied for seventh place in the Western Conference. The Avalanche have made the playoffs 11 straight seasons.

Colorado has lost the first two contests on a four-game homestand - both to teams ahead of it in the standings.

"This was reminiscent of a lot of points we've left on the table earlier in the year," coach Joel Quenneville said after a 3-2 defeat to Edmonton on Saturday.

A loss Tuesday would give the Avalanche three straight at home for the second time this season. They dropped three in a row at the Pepsi Center from Nov. 7-15.

If the Avalanche miss the playoffs, it would be the first time since 1993-94, when they were the Quebec Nordiques.

The Panthers, meanwhile, haven't made the postseason since 1999-00, and are nine points behind Carolina for the eighth playoff spot in the East. They're also coming off the worst home loss in franchise history, 7-0 to Los Angeles on Saturday.

"I still can't believe this happens - it is hard to even think about the playoffs after we play like this," captain Olli Jokinen said.

Due to the lockout, Colorado will be facing Florida (20-24-10) for the first time since a 6-5 road win Jan. 21, 2004. The teams haven't met in Denver since Jan. 2, 2003, when the Panthers won 4-1.

The Avalanche are 14-5-3 all-time against the Panthers.

"It's critical, but we do not need to panic," said Colorado goaltender Peter Budaj, who has started 15 of the team's last 16 games.

The Avalanche's Karlis Skrastins will tie an NHL record for consecutive games by a defenseman Tuesday by playing in his 486th in a row. Skrastins, who hasn't missed a regular season game in nearly seven years, will match Hall of Famer Tim Horton.

"He's a guy that really flies under the radar in terms of the attention he gets, but our team is very much aware of the contributions he makes each and every game," Quenneville told the team's Web site. "Whether it's blocking shots, killing penalties or just being in the right place all the time, he's very reliable, steady and consistent in the way he goes about his game. As a coach, you love to have a guy like that."

The Panthers were shut out for the second time in a week and seventh time this season Saturday. It marked the 11th time they've given up five or more goals.

Panthers goalie Ed Belfour was replaced by Alex Auld with Florida trailing 3-0 and 5:59 left in the first period. Belfour gave up five goals in a loss to the Avalanche on Jan. 17, 2006, while with Toronto.

Belfour is 11-12-0 with five ties and a 2.40 goals-against average against the Colorado franchise.

Florida defenseman Martin Lojek made his NHL debut Saturday by filling in for Mike Van Ryn (hand). Lojek was recalled from Rochester of the AHL on Saturday.

Van Ryn's status for Tuesday is uncertain.

Florida will play four of its next five on the road, where it is 1-4-2 since Dec. 26.

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