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Predators, Avalanche after strong second-half starts

by Robby Stanley / NHL.com

AVALANCHE (20-18-10) at PREDATORS (30-10-5)

TV: FS-TN, ALT

NASHVILLE – The Nashville Predators will continue their push toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Tuesday when they face the Colorado Avalanche at Bridgestone Arena.

The Predators lead the Central Division and are three points behind the Anaheim Ducks for first place in the Western Conference. They hope to continue their strong play for the rest of the regular season.

"We've worked hard to put ourselves in a really good position in the first half," Predators forward Eric Nystrom said. "Now the second half, we need to finish the way we started and make the regular season worth it. Work for home ice in the playoffs, work for first place in the League. That's something that we have our eyes on in here. It's all mental from here on out. You've just got to prepare yourself to play."

The Avalanche have a lot of talent at forward and are good at cycling the puck down low in the zone. Nashville wants to keep the puck away from Colorado's talented group of forwards.

"They're a quick team and they have a lot of skill up front," Nystrom said. "They're tough to contain down low, but we just have to make sure we stay within our structure and are committed to doing the right thing defensively. With that, we'll get our chances offensively. We're honestly at our best when we're playing in the offensive zone. That's our best defense."

Colorado is three points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference and feels like the second half of the season can be used as a fresh start.

"For the last month and a half or so, we've been getting better as a group and feeling better, and climbing back toward a playoff spot," Avalanche forward Jarome Iginla said. "It's over halfway, but it feels like after the All-Star break it just goes fast. In our position, and teams right around us, it's going to take some very good hockey from here on in to make the playoffs. We realize that, but we believe we can do that."

Nashville defeated Colorado 3-0 on Dec. 9 at Pepsi Center. Iginla noticed more of an offensive approach to the Predators' game this season than in the past.

"They're probably a little more offensive I would say," Iginla said. "You could look in the standings, but playing them and seeing the highlights, they're probably a little bit more explosive as far as the style of game they want to play. Possess the puck. I guess we've only seen them once, so I guess we're going to see them a little bit from here until the end of the year."

Colorado announced Monday that Erik Johnson will be out 3-8 weeks after he had a knee scope. Johnson leads Avalanche defensemen with 12 goals and 24:45 of ice time per game.

"He's a big part of our team, and a big part of our defense," Iginla said. "But we've got a young group that, when we're going well, we don't have a lot of fear. We play hard, and that's what we're going to need."

Here are the projected lineups:

AVALANCHE

Gabriel LandeskogRyan O'ReillyNathan MacKinnon

Alex TanguayMatt DucheneJarome Iginla

Dennis EverbergJohn MitchellCody McLeod

Maxime TalbotMarc-Andre ClicheDaniel Briere

Jan HejdaZach Redmond

Nate GueninTyson Barrie

Brad StuartNick Holden

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

Scratched: None

Injured: Erik Johnson (knee), Patrick Bordeleau (knee), Jamie McGinn (back), Borna Rendulic (broken leg), Jesse Winchester (concussion), Ryan Wilson (shoulder)

PREDATORS

Filip ForsbergMike RibeiroCraig Smith

Colin WilsonMike FisherJames Neal

Matt CullenCalle JarnkrokGabriel Bourque

Eric NystromPaul GaustadOlli Jokinen

Roman JosiShea Weber

Mattias EkholmSeth Jones

Anton VolchenkovVictor Bartley

Carter Hutton

Marek Mazanec

Scratched: Taylor Beck

Injured: Ryan Ellis (lower body), Pekka Rinne (sprained knee)

Status report: Varlamov was the first goaltender off of the ice for the Avalanche and is expected to start against the Predators. … Beck was the extra man for the Predators at the morning skate and is not expected to play. … Rinne skated on his own but remains out with a knee sprain. … The Predators announced Monday that Ellis will be out another two weeks.

Who's hot: O'Reilly has two goals and one assist in his past four games. … Wilson has eight goals and 10 assists in his past 14 games for the Predators.

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