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Vancouver Canucks vs. Colorado Avalanche @NHLdotcom
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GAME: Vancouver Canucks (35-19-7-4) at Colorado Avalanche (33-16-11-5).

TIME: Wednesday, 9 p.m. EST.

If the Colorado Avalanche were waiting for an important game to end their worst stretch of the season, that time has arrived.

With first place in the Northwest Division at stake, the Avalanche will try to end a seven-game home winless streak when the Vancouver Canucks visit the Pepsi Center.

Owners of the NHL's best record at the end of January, the Avalanche could find themselves second in the Northwest with a loss Wednesday. While a playoff berth is all but assured, a second-place finish in the division would likely drop Colorado into fourth place in the Western Conference.

Despite several of the league's best offensive players, the Avalanche have had problems scoring at home of late, contributing to an 0-4-2-1 mark there since a 3-1 victory over Carolina on Feb. 3.

Since scoring two goals in the first period against Detroit on Feb. 5, Colorado has just four goals in nearly 430 minutes at the Pepsi Center.

A lackluster 3-0 loss to visiting Tampa Bay on Monday dropped the Avs to 1-5-1-1 in their last eight overall.

"Going through the season, you obviously think you are going to have little stumbles, but I didn't think we would get caught in a rut like this," Colorado coach Tony Granato said. "We haven't been able to generate a whole lot of offense. With the people we have on this team, that should be our strength."

With the Avalanche struggling, rumors are intensifying that the team is talking with the Washington Capitals about the possibility of trading for goalie Olaf Kolzig and defenseman Sergei Gonchar.

While goaltending figured to be the team's biggest problem this season, David Aebischer has been arguably the team's best player lately. Aebischer has allowed two goals or fewer in seven of his last eight starts.

Getting star center Peter Forsberg - sidelined the last seven games with a groin injury - back in the lineup would certainly help Colorado.

"We're just going to take our time," Forsberg said. "It's going to take a while to heal. How long we don't know. We're not going to take any chances right now and come back too early and hurt it again."

Also contributing to the team's slump is the lack of production from star forwards Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya. Selanne has three goals and four points in his past 25 games and Kariya has two goals in his last 16 contests.

Vancouver completed a sweep of a three-game homestand with a 2-0 victory over St. Louis on Saturday.

Johan Hedberg, making his first start in two weeks, earned his second shutout of the season and Artem Chubarov and Mattias Ohlund scored for the Canucks, who finished 5-5-0-2 in February.

Vancouver's Todd Bertuzzi has one goal in his last 11 games.

STANDINGS: Canucks - 81 points, 2nd place, 1 PB, Northwest Division. Avalanche - 82 points, 1st place, Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Canucks - Markus Naslund, 30 goals, 40 assists and 70 points; Jarkko Ruutu, 116 PIM. Avalanche - Milan Hejduk, 30 goals; Alex Tanguay, 49 assists and 71 points; Jim Cummins, 136 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 1): Canucks - Power play: 16.1 percent (51 for 317), 15th in NHL. Penalty killing: 86.4 percent (241 for 279), 1st. Avalanche - Power play: 21.6 percent (60 for 278), 3rd. Penalty killing: 84.4 percent (243 for 288), 13th.

GOALTENDERS: Canucks - Dan Cloutier (26-18-3, 4 SO, 2.27 GAA); Hedberg (7-4-2, 2, 2.24). Avalanche - Aebischer (26-15-8, 4, 2.03); Philippe Sauve (7-6-3, 2.79).

SEASON SERIES: Canucks, 2-1-1.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 16; Canucks, 1-0. At Denver, Daniel Sedin scored a third-period goal in support of Cloutier, who made 23 saves for his 14th career shutout.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Canucks - 18-9-2-4 on the road; Avalanche - 16-12-4-1 at home.

Associated Press
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