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Predators go for home-and-home sweep of Avs

by Pete Jensen

AVALANCHE (23-20-1) at PREDATORS (23-15-4)


LAST 10: Colorado 7-3-0; Nashville 6-4-0

Season Series: Thursday marks the second of four regular-season meetings between these Western Conference foes and the back end of a home-and-home set. On Tuesday, Pekka Rinne stopped 32 of 33 shots to pace Nashville's 4-1 road win over Colorado -- which had won nine of its last 10 games at Pepsi Center.

Big Story: Two days after a convincing victory in the Mile High City, Nashville goes for a sweep at Bridgestone Arena. The Preds, who are tied with Minnesota for sixth place in the West, have won two straight and lead the Avalanche by three points with two games in hand. Colorado, meanwhile, looks to snap a six-game losing skid to Nashville dating back to Feb. 4, 2010.

Team Scope:

Avalanche: Colorado has dropped two straight and continues a road-heavy January as it opens a three-game road trip. The Avs outscored their opponents 13-5 during a four-game winning streak from Dec. 29 to Jan. 6, but their offense has gone quiet as of late with only a goal to show for itself in consecutive losses. Ryan O'Reilly scored with 36 seconds left in the second period on Tuesday to cut the Nashville's lead to 3-1, but the Avs could not muster any more scoring.

"It was a first-period game; [Nashville] won the game in the first period," O'Reilly said. "They put us in a big hole and to climb back out of it is a real tough thing to do. They're such a good grinding team. All the guys finish their checks and they make it hard. They collapse in their own zone pretty tight and it's tough to get pucks through."

The Avs could get a lift offensively as Peter Mueller -- who has played in only 18 games in three seasons in Colorado due to head injuries -- will be available. Jean-Sebastien Giguere will get the start in place of Semyon Varlamov, who is nursing a minor knee injury but will dress as the backup.

Predators: Nashville has won five of its last six due to strong goaltending by Rinne, who allowed two goals or less in four of those six games. With the Predators' offense picking up steam with nine goals in its last two games, Nashville continues to find success due to its consistent play on both ends of the ice.

In Tuesday's win over the Avalanche, Nashville opened up a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes of play. That was more than enough support for Rinne, who allowed only one goal during an 18-shot Colorado flurry in the second period en route to his eighth win in 11 career decisions against the Avs.

"Whenever you play the Western teams, you always try and bring your best game and we have been doing a pretty good job against Colorado," Rinne said. "They have a good young team and every year they get better. We seem to match up pretty well against them, but I'm not saying it's easy."

Who's Hot: Shea Weber has been a point-per-game force for Nashville in his last eight games, tallying three goals and six assists in that span. … O'Reilly has two goals and two assists over his last five games.

Injury Report: Mueller (concussion) is expected to be available after he was activated off injured reserve. The Avalanche will be without Matt Duchene (knee), who is on IR. Erik Johnson (hand) practiced Wednesday and was activated off injured reserve. Shane O'Brien (knee) was placed on IR and will miss the game. … Nashville forward Jerred Smithson (lower body) missed Tuesday's game and is questionable.

Stat Pack: The Predators are 18-2-2 this season when scoring two or more goals. …Nick Spaling was among Tuesday's scorers for Nashville; the Predators are now 12-0-1 in his career when he turns on the red light.

Puck Drop: Rookie defenseman Ryan Ellis notched his second straight two-point game for Nashville in Tuesday's win over Colorado, with three of those four points coming on the power play. Ellis has six games under his belt entering Thursday's home-and-home finale against the Avs, and continues to impress in his audition for an entry-level contract.

"[Ellis] has a very high confidence level in what he's capable of doing," coach Barry Trotz told The Tennessean. "He trusts his instincts and I've been happy with him so far."

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