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GAME: Columbus Blue Jackets (23-33-2) at Colorado Avalanche (33-21-6).
TIME: Thursday, 9 p.m. EST.
The Colorado Avalanche look to continue their domination of the Columbus Blue Jackets and complete a season sweep when the teams meet for the fourth and final time in 2005-06.
The Avalanche are 17-0-1 with one tie against the Blue Jackets and have outscored them 81-26 since Columbus entered the NHL for the 2000-01 season. Colorado's only loss in the series was a 5-4 overtime defeat on Feb. 28, 2004.
The Avalanche defeated the other 2000-01 entrant, the Minnesota Wild, 4-2 on Tuesday to push their combined record against the Blue Jackets and Wild to 36-10. The victory was the Avs' fourth in five games overall.
"Pretty much in all of March we are on the road," Colorado's Milan Hejduk said of the team playing 10 of its 14 games this month away from the Pepsi Center. "(Tuesday's) two points are really important for us. And now every game is really important. It's a battle for a playoff spot. Every two points are huge. The race is tight and it's going to go down to the wire."
The Avalanche are one point behind Calgary and Vancouver for the top spot in the Northwest Division, which guarantees one of the top three seeds for the Western Conference playoffs. Colorado is in sixth place in the West and is also pushing Nashville for the fourth spot as it tries to qualify for the playoffs for the 10th straight season since the franchise moved from Quebec to Denver.
David Aebischer will looking to extend his personal dominance over the Blue Jackets after making 33 saves in the win over the Wild. Aebischer is 6-0 with two shutouts and a 0.99 goals-against average against Columbus.
Joe Sakic has been the offensive catalyst for the Avalanche against the Blue Jackets, compiling a series-best nine goals, 20 assists and 29 points in 17 games.
The Avs captain has seven assists and eight points in his last five contests.
Columbus will be playing the opener of a three-game road trip and is looking to avoid a third straight loss. The Jackets are expected to have their four Olympians, David Vyborny, Rick Nash, Adam Foote and Radoslav Suchy, in the lineup Thursday.
Vyborny is having a successful fifth NHL season to go along with his bronze medal, earned as a member of the Czech Republic team. He is six goals and three assists shy of matching his career highs set in 2003-04.
The Blue Jackets will be without defenseman Bryan Berard for at least another two weeks due to a lower back injury. He has missed seven games and has not played since a 4-3 win over the Wild on Jan. 27.
STANDINGS: Blue Jackets - 48 points, 3rd place, 37 PB, Central Division. Avalanche - 72 points, 3rd place, 1 PB, Northwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Blue Jackets - Nikolai Zherdev, 19 goals; Vyborny, 28 assists and 44 points; Jody Shelley, 115 PIM. Avalanche - Marek Svatos, 32 goals; Alex Tanguay, 42 assists and 66 points; Ian Laperriere, 90 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Blue Jackets - Power play: 15.1 percent (49 for 325), 28th in NHL. Penalty killing: 80.8 percent (312 for 386), 21st. Avalanche - Power play: 19.9 percent (73 for 367), 5th. Penalty killing: 84.7 percent (277 for 327), 7th.
GOALTENDERS: Blue Jackets - Marc Denis (15-20-0, 1 SO, 3.40 GAA); Pascal Leclaire (5-10-2, 3.62). Avalanche - Aebischer (23-13-2, 2, 3.09); Peter Budaj (7-5-4, 0, 2.62).
SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 3-0.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 10; Avalanche, 4-1. At Columbus, Ohio, Svatos scored two third-period goals and Budaj made 28 saves to give the Avalanche their third consecutive win.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Blue Jackets - 8-20-2 on the road; Avalanche - 19-8-5 at home.