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Avalanche-Blackhawks Preview

Sunday, 12.17.2006 / 4:00 PM

Associated Press

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Avalanche-Blackhawks Preview
Colorado Avalanche vs. Chicago Blackhawks

A coaching change and a healthy Martin Havlat have the Chicago Blackhawks thinking about a rare postseason appearance.

Chicago will try to continue its impressive resurgence under Denis Savard when they meet the streaking Colorado Avalanche at the United Center on Sunday.

Savard scored 473 goals in a 17-year career, and the Blackhawks certainly appear to be listening to the Hall of Famer since he took over for the fired Trent Yawney on Nov. 27.

Chicago (13-13-5) has scored 33 goals in 10 games under Savard. That was after managing just 48 in its first 21 games to tie New Jersey for 29th over that span.

The Blackhawks are 6-1-3 under Savard after going 7-12-2 under Yawney.

"At the beginning (of the season) it was very tough and we had a lot of injuries," said Havlat, who had two assists in a 5-3 road win over Colorado on Oct. 16. "Right now under Savard, we're playing more offensively and we pressure the puck much more."

Chicago has reached the postseason once since 1997-98, but the recent surge has moved the Blackhawks within four points of Vancouver for eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth.

After losing for the first time in regulation under Savard on Thursday, Chicago scored five first-period goals and hung on for a 6-4 win over Columbus on Saturday. Havlat and Tuomo Ruutu each had a goal and an assist and Duncan Keith added a career-high three assists as Chicago recorded its first five-goal opening period since setting a franchise record with six at Florida on March 15, 1998.

"We showed lots of character in the third to come back after being up 5-1," Savard said. "We want to be a team that pressures. We got away from pressuring. We turned the puck over too many times. They got back into it with their good players."

Havlat leads the team with 11 goals and added an assist on Lasse Kukkonen's insurance goal in the third. That gives Havlat has four goals and four assists in five games after missing 19 with a sprained ankle.

Colorado (16-14-2) will be looking to extend its season-high winning streak to four games, but has been inconsistent on the road this season having alternated losses and wins in its last five contests en route to a 7-7-1 mark overall.

The Avalanche continued their recent winning ways with a 4-1 home victory over Edmonton on Friday. Peter Budaj, who has been in net for all three wins, gave up an early goal to Marc-Antoine Pouliot but rebounded to finish with 18 saves.

"I had a lot of things going for me," Budaj said. "It wasn't like many of their shots were great chances and a lot of them were hitting me in the chest."

Budaj, who's stopped 69 of 73 shots during Colorado's winning streak, is 2-0-1 with a 1.96 goals-against average in his career against Chicago.

Joe Sakic will try to extend his points streak to a season high-tying six games. He had two assists in the win over the Oilers, giving him five goals and 11 points in his last five games.

Sakic's six-game run started with a goal against the Blackhawks on Oct. 16.

Colorado has won five of the last six games in Chicago.

2006-2007 season series
DateScoreW. Goal
Mar 01 '07COL 6 at CHI 1B. McLean
Dec 23 '06CHI 2 at COL 3W. Wolski
Dec 17 '06COL 1 at CHI 2A. Aucoin
Oct 16 '06CHI 5 at COL 3M. Lapointe
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GoalieGPRec.GASAGAASv%
PlayerGPGAP+/-PIMPPGW
GoalieGPRec.GASAGAASv%
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