AVALANCHE (13-10-3) at PANTHERS (11-14-0)
Colorado 5-3-2; Florida 4-6-0
This is the only game of the 2010-11 season between teams coming up on the 15th anniversary of their meeting to decide the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, which the Avalanche swept in four straight. The teams met twice last season and each won on home ice -- Stephen Weiss
had the hat trick and the winning shootout goal in Florida's 6-5 victory on Dec. 2, 2009, while Paul Stastny
scored twice and Craig Anderson stopped all 27 shots he faced in Colorado's 3-0 triumph on March 11, 2010.
This marks the midway point of a five-game road trip for the Avalanche, who will be looking to snap out of an 0-1-2 stretch. While they didn't get any points out of a 6-5 loss in Tampa Bay on Saturday they rallied late in the third period to trim a three-goal deficit down to one, and newcomer Tomas Fleischmann
recorded two assists, his first points with Colorado in his second game following a trade from Washington. He's playing on a line with Matt Duchene
and leading scorer Milan Hejduk
Following back-to-back overtime losses to Atlanta and Carolina by 3-2 and 2-1 scores, Colorado got into a shootout with Tampa over the weekend and didn't fare any better. Peter Budaj got peppered with 39 shots, including 20 in the second period, when the Lightning scored three times to take control of the game. With Budaj on the bench over the final several minutes, Brandon Yip
's power-play goal and Hejduk's subsequent tally got the Avalanche close, but they couldn't manage the tying score over the final 66 seconds.
"We weren't ready to start on time tonight," coach Joe Sacco told the Denver Post. "For 60 minutes, we need to be better, there's no question. That's not good enough against that team tonight."
Once again it appears that if Florida is to end a decade-long playoff drought, it will have to dig itself out of an early hole. The Panthers' 22 points have them last in the Southeast Division and in the lower third of the Eastern Conference standings. A decent winning streak could get them over the .500 mark, but consistency has been an issue over the first third of the season. The Panthers will be shooting for back-to-back wins for the first time since mid-November after claiming a 2-1 shootout victory over the Coyotes on Saturday in Phoenix.
"We knew they were going to come out hard; it's their building, they're a very good team, they're very fast," said goalie Scott Clemmensen
, who punctuated a 40-save effort with three more stops in the penalty-shot tiebreaker. "It was a matter of kind of weathering the storm in the first. I thought once we got going there, from the beginning of the second on in, we were very good."
Rookie defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has 4 goals and 9 assists during a nine-game points streak for the Avalanche. Hejduk has 5 goals and 5 assists during a seven-game points streak. Duchene has 5 goals and 2 assists in his last six games. … Michael Frolik scored the only regulation goal for the Panthers and added the shootout winner against the Coyotes.
Colorado defenseman Kyle Cumiskey
(concussion) and forwards Peter Mueller
(concussion), David Van Der Gulik
(knee), TJ Galiardi
(wrist) and Chris Stewart (hand) are on injured reserve. … Florida forwards Cory Stillman (back spasms), Chris Higgins (foot) and Radek Dvorak (shoulder) are day-to-day. Defenseman Bryan Allen (foot) is out several weeks. Forwards Byron Bitz (sports hernia), Mark Cullen (Achilles) and Rostislav Olesz (finger) are on injured reserve.
Stastny, who doesn't turn 25 until the end of the month, skated in his 300th NHL game against the Lightning. … Clemmensen has made 40 or more saves in three of his past five wins dating back to last season.
There won't be any plastic rats raining down on the ice following Florida goals like in the 1996 Final, but it's still a big game for both teams. The Avalanche can move back into a first-place tie with the Canucks in the Northwest with two points, while the Panthers must start accumulating points in a hurry before their deficit for a playoff berth hits double digits.