VANCOUVER -- With the Central Division and home-ice advantage to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs still on the line, the Colorado Avalanche will start Vezina Trophy candidate Semyon Varlamov on Thursday night against the Vancouver Canucks.
With nothing left to play for, Vancouver will finally give goalie Jacob Markstrom his first start in a Canucks uniform, and his first in the NHL since late December.
In addition to possibly catching the St. Louis Blues, who are two points ahead in the Central, and securing at least second place in the division by moving four points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks with a win, Varlamov has a chance to break coach Patrick Roy's franchise record with his 41st win of the season.
"I thought about not playing him, but I changed my mind looking at the standings," said Roy, who set the win record in 2000-01. "But on a serious note, records are meant to be broken and I hope he will, it will be great for our team."
Varlamov has been great for Colorado all season, adding technical consistency to his athletic style under new Avalanche goaltending coach Francois Allaire to go 40-14-6 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. Roy said Varlamov should get Hart Trophy consideration as the NHL's MVP.
"He's one of the reasons we are where we are," Roy said. "He has been so good and that's why, looking at the standings today, seeing us with the Blues and not too far from Boston, I think he should be considered a Hart Trophy winner."
Other than Varlamov, who backed up Jean-Sebastien Giguere's 4-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, Roy will dress the same lineup. He plans to start third goalie Reto Berra against the San Jose Sharks on Friday, just the second time Berra has played since being acquired from the Calgary Flames on March 5.
Roy said his goaltending decision for the season finale Sunday against the Anaheim Ducks will depend on what is still at stake in the standings, but he is expecting to get a couple of injured forwards back by then.
Right wing PA Parenteau, who has been out since spraining his MCL on March 10, will return against the Sharks, and left wing Cody McLeod, who has missed three games with an ankle injury, might play Sunday.
"He looks good, he's feeling much better," Roy said of McLeod.
The Canucks are in the midst of a whirlwind week on and off the ice.
Vancouver was eliminated from playoff contention on Monday, fired president and general manager Mike Gillis on Tuesday, and introduced Trevor Linden as the new president of hockey operations on Wednesday. Still, coach John Tortorella plans to dress most of his regulars against the Avalanche before using weekend games against the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers to evaluate younger, less-used players.
"This game means a lot to Colorado," Tortorella said of not yet experimenting with his roster. "I still think you need to try to win hockey games here and stay competitive and be professional about it. Then Calgary and Edmonton, all three teams are done after Sunday, so we may see some different things there."
The exceptions are rookie defenseman Frank Corrado, who will play in place of veteran Jason Garrison on Thursday, and Markstrom, who hasn't started since being acquired from the Florida Panthers as part of the Roberto Luongo trade on March 4.
Like Varlamov under Allaire this season, Markstrom has been asked to simplify his game by Canucks goaltending coach Roland Melanson over the past five weeks of practice. The promising 24-year-old is playing deeper in his crease to minimize extra movements and the holes it opens up, and has moved his hands forward and gone to a shorter stick paddle to try and tighten up his butterfly and prevent pucks from getting through his massive 6-foot-6 frame.
Markstrom was the American Hockey League Goaltender of the Month in February, but his last game there was March 1, and his only appearance with the Canucks was in relief of Eddie Lack in the third period of his first game.
"It's been a while, so I can't wait to get in there," Markstrom said. "I'm just trying to improve my game as much as I can, and obviously it's a couple different things Rollie wants with his goalies, but I feel really good and I am excited to play."
Here are the projected lineups for the Avalanche and Canucks:
Gabriel Landeskog - Paul Stastny - John Mitchell
Ryan O'Reilly - Nathan MacKinnon - Jamie McGinn
Patrick Bordeleau - Marc-Andre Cliche - Maxime Talbot
Ryan Wilson - Brad Malone - Paul Carey
Jan Hejda - Erik Johnson
Andre Benoit - Nate Guenin
Nick Holden - Tyson Barrie
Scratched: Reto Berra
Injured: Alex Tanguay (hip), PA Parenteau (knee), Matt Duchene (knee), Cory Sarich (back), Cody McLeod (knee)
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Nicklas Jensen
David Booth – Ryan Kesler – Jannik Hansen
Chris Higgins – Brad Richardson – Zack Kassian
Tom Sestito – Shawn Matthias – Alexandre Burrows
Dan Hamhuis – Frank Corrado
Alexander Edler – Kevin Bieksa
Ryan Stanton – Yannick Weber
Scratched: Jason Garrison, Jordan Schroeder, Zac Dalpe, Michael Zalewski
Injured: Christopher Tanev (broken finger), Mike Santorelli (shoulder surgery), Andrew Alberts (concussion)