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Wings, Avs resume NHL schedule

by Brian Hunter
RED WINGS (28-21-12) at AVALANCHE (35-20-6)

Last 10: Detroit 3-3-4; Colorado 5-5-0.

Season series: Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. The Avalanche opened eyes back in October by beating the Red Wings on consecutive Saturday nights, rallying for a 4-3 shootout win in Detroit on Oct. 17 and following up with a 3-1 victory in Colorado on Oct. 24. In the most recent meeting, the Red Wings won 4-2 on New Year's Eve.

Big story: Just over 24 hours after leading Team Canada to Olympic gold in Vancouver, Mike Babcock is back behind the bench for the Red Wings, a team that hasn't missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 20 years but starts the stretch run 10 th  in the Western Conference. They have the chance to move past Dallas and Calgary into eighth with a victory Monday. Meanwhile, forward Paul Stastny of the Avalanche and defenseman Brian Rafalski of the Red Wings, teammates for the silver-medalist Americans, find themselves back in opposing jerseys.

Team Scope:

Red Wings: So much for easing back into the schedule. Detroit's first five games out of the break are all against teams currently in the West's top eight. On the plus side, five of the next six after Monday will be played at Joe Louis Arena, where the team is 16-8-5 this season.

As they waited to resume the season, the Red Wings had a little fun at practice last week when forward Todd Bertuzzi suited up for the defense with the team undermanned along the blue line.

"The defensemen had a draft pick, and that's who they picked," assistant coach Paul MacLean told the Detroit Free Press. "That's part of the fun of it."

Avalanche: Despite having two fewer wins and thus losing out on the Northwest Division tiebreaker, Colorado is even in points with Vancouver at 76 and can move into undisputed possession of first place with at least a point against Detroit.

The Avalanche returned to practice Wednesday, with coach Joe Sacco skating the players hard for over an hour.

"The break allowed some guys who were banged up to recuperate," Sacco told the Denver Post. "And also for a lot of guys who were playing a lot of minutes, to get some rest."

Who's hot: Pavel Datsyuk leads Detroit with 49 points, including six goals and nine assists in 14 games prior to the Olympics. He had a goal, three points and a plus-2 rating for Russia in Vancouver.

Stastny's 54 points are tops on Colorado, including a goal and four assists in four games before the break. Rookie Matt Duchene had nine goals and six assists in his last 16 games.

Injury report: The Red Wings are about as healthy as they're going to get coming out of the Olympic break. Forward Tomas Holmstrom, who didn't participate for Sweden due to a left knee injury, is likely to play Monday, as is forward Patrick Eaves (sprained ankle). Forward Kirk Maltby is expected to undergo right shoulder surgery and was put on injured reserve, freeing up cap space to activate defenseman Andreas Lilja.

The Avalanche expect to have forward Matt Hendricks (ankle) and defensemen Adam Foote (back) and Kyle Cumiskey (concussion) back on Monday, and possibly forward Milan Hejduk (knee) as well. Forward David Jones has a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season.

Stat pack: Rafalski finished the Olympics with four goals, eight points and a plus-7 rating in six games, while Stastny contributed a goal, three points and a plus-2 rating in six games.

Puck drop: Before the start of the season, any suggestion that Colorado would be fighting for a division title at this stage while Detroit battled just to make the playoffs would have been labeled as ludicrous. But with six weeks remaining, what you see in the standings is reality.

This is the only game on Monday's schedule and will be televised nationally in the U.S. by Versus.
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