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Thrashers make rare trip to Colorado

by Matthew Mankiewich
THRASHERS (25-24-8) at AVALANCHE (33-19-6)

Last 10: Atlanta 4-5-1, Colorado 6-4-0.

Season Series: An interconference once-a-year event, the last a 3-0 Atlanta shutout on Mar. 10, 2009. Colorado played host to a particularly hot Kari Lehtonen, who posted his second goose egg in three starts, stopping 35 shots in the process and giving the Thrashers their third straight win over the Avalanche and a sweep of their two-game series in 2008-09.

The Avs need not worry about facing Lehtonen again for a while. Even though a return tonight from offseason back surgery would have been unlikely, late Tuesday night the Thrashers traded the franchise leader in games played, wins, save percentage and shutouts to the Dallas Stars for defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy and a fourth-round pick in the 2010 Entry Draft.

Big Story: The chase is on in the Northwest Division with the Avs taking three of their last four and the Canucks coming back down to Earth a bit, dropping two of three after winning seven in a row. Though they're now dead-even with 72 points apiece, Vancouver remains atop the standings with a game in hand.

Meanwhile, the Thrashers have kept pace with the rest of the Eastern Conference despite the loss of superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuk in a trade with the Devils, only three points behind Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, the seventh and eighth seeds, respectively. They embark on a three-game trip before shutting down for the Olympic break and hope to rack up a few more road wins than the three they've had since early December.

Team Scope:

Thrashers: As was the case for many a snow-bound citizen of the Middle Atlantic states, the Thrashers had some trouble getting back home from Washington. Five-and-a-half hours on a bus from Washington to Richmond, a small fender-bender along the way, two more hours on the tarmac getting the plane de-iced, getting into the air five minutes before the airport was shut down and then they put in a blue-collar effort coming back from two goals down to take out the Panthers 4-2.

"We had a very difficult day, then went down 2-0 on a couple of weird plays," coach John Anderson said. "I like our resolve. I like the fact that we don't quit and we became a bit of a team tonight."

What's even more interesting about the day was how two of the newest Thrashers, Johnny Oduya and Niclas Bergfors, played significant roles in the win despite not having had even a morning skate with their new team, Bergfors scoring the game-winning goal late in the third period.

Avalanche: They're scoring in bunches at the Pepsi Center these days, 13 goals in their last three home games to be exact, and the Avs have two more home games to pile on some more before finishing their pre-Olympic schedule in Los Angeles.

Brandon Yip had a pair of goals in Monday's 5-2 win against the Blues, while Chris Stewart had a goal and two assists. And with enforcer David Koci down with a broken hand sustained in a fight earlier in the game, Stewart had the chance to accomplish one of the rarer feats in hockey -- a Gordie Howe hat trick. A second-period fight with B.J. Crombeen completed the trifecta.

"It's nice to get a goal and a couple of assists," Stewart said to the Denver Post, "but anytime you get in a physical altercation and it's been awhile, you can be a little rusty."

Who's Hot: Yip's two-goal performance is the second in his last four games. Another goal against Edmonton gives him five in that span. Stewart has 33 points in his last 35 games. Thrashers center Nik Antropov, who matched a career high with three assists against the Panthers, has two goals and an assist in his last three games versus Colorado.

Injury Report: Anderson confirmed that defenseman Boris Valabik suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and has been placed on injured reserve.

On the Avs' side, forwards Ryan O'Reilly (foot) and Wojtek Wolski (leg) did not participate in practice Tuesday. O'Reilly remains a game-time decision, while Wolski took a "maintenance day" and should be available.

Stat Pack: Thrashers goalie Johan Hedberg is 0-4-0 lifetime versus the Avalanche and Ondrej Pavelec has never faced them, but is 0-3-0 in this last three starts. After winning 10 of their first 12 road games, the Thrashers have sunk to 3-12-3 away from Philips Arena since Dec. 5, allowing an average of 3.7 goals per game.

Puck Drop: "It has to. It's not 'if,' it has to. You lose a guy who scores between 40-50 goals a year and it changes the direction of your team a little bit. Everybody has to chip in to score goals and we have to be better defensively. It's a whole dynamic change for us and hopefully we can do it sooner than later." -- Thrashers coach John Anderson on how team chemistry will change in the aftermath of the Kovalchuk trade

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