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Surging Avs try to stay hot against Hawks

by Davis Harper

AVALANCHE (22-18-1) at BLACKHAWKS (24-12-4)


LAST 10: Colorado 8-2-0; Chicago 6-4-0

Season Series: This is the third of four meetings. The teams split a home-and-home series on Oct. 20-22, with each team winning in the other's building. In the second meeting, Colorado beat Chicago 5-4 in a shootout at the United Center.

Big Story: In a reversal of storyline few could have predicted as 2011 wound to a close, a struggling Blackhawks team welcomes the surging Avalanche on Friday. Colorado, mired in mediocrity for much of the season, is a winner of eight of nine, including the first two of their current four-game road trip. Meanwhile, Chicago returns home to start a four-game homestand after a last-minute loss in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Team Scope:

Avalanche: Don't look now, but Colorado is turning heads in the Western Conference playoff race. The Avs made it three wins in a row and eight in nine games when they beat Los Angeles 2-1 in a shootout on Monday. Colorado erased a 1-0 deficit when Ryan O'Reilly scored with 5:43 to play in regulation, then Milan Hejduk beat Kings goalie Jonathan Quick to win the shootout. After the game, many Avs players credited goalie Semyon Varlamov, who saved 31 shots and stone each of LA's penalty-takers.

"I think goaltending's the main thing," O'Reilly said. "After a couple of wins there, you start to sense confident there on the bench. Guys know we're going to get the extra point. You got Hejduk shooting. I don't think he misses too much. Varm in the pipes stops them every time."

Varlamov has fought his way back to .500 (13-13-1) on the season with four wins in five starts.

Blackhawks: Losses in three of their last four mean Chicago conceded the top spot in the West to rival Vancouver. Thursday's 5-4 loss in Philadelphia typified the Hawlks' season: An early 2-1 advantage turned to a 4-2 deficit in just four minutes of the second period. Chicago roared back with third-period goals from Brent Seabrook and Patrick Kane in a 25-second span, only to surrender the winning goal with 32.8 seconds in regulation, a minute after Kane went off for high-sticking.

"It was a brutal loss," coach Joel Quenneville said after watching the Flyers barrage Ray Emery with 46 shots. "That's a lot of pucks at the net."

Who's Hot: Jonathan Toews and Kane each have three-game points streaks for Chicago. … In addition to his shootout winner against Los Angeles, Hejduk had two assists the game before against Anaheim.

Injury Report: Colorado defenseman Ryan Wilson is questionable for Friday's game with a head injury. Center Matt Duchene will miss 4-6 weeks with a knee injury. … For Chicago, Steve Montador (upper body) and Marcus Kruger (concussion) are on injured reserve. Daniel Carcillo will serve the second of his seven-game suspension for boarding Edmonton's Tom Gilbert during Monday's 4-3 loss.

Stat Pack: No one wants to deal with the Avs in shootouts. Monday's win was Colorado's seventh in as many tiebreakers this season. Chicago is 4-3.

Puck Drop: "You get a couple wins together, you start to feel confident. We're getting contributions from different guys at different times, and that's what you need. You can't always rely on the same guys, you need everyone chipping in, and we've got to keep that going."- Colorado's Chuck Kobasew on his team's recent rise.

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