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After scuffling at home through the first two months of the season, it's safe to say the Colorado Avalanche have picked up the pace on their own ice.
On the verge of their longest home winning streak in nearly 17 years, the Avalanche face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night.
Colorado lost nine of its first 13 games at the Pepsi Center but has since won seven in a row while outscoring opponents 22-13. The Avalanche haven't posted eight consecutive home wins since a franchise best-tying 10-game run March 6-April 16, 1995, as the Quebec Nordiques.
Five of their last seven home victories have come by one goal, including Wednesday's 3-2 win over St. Louis.
"I think it's a learning curve for us - the more we're gonna win, the more we're gonna get comfortable with the lead - especially at home here lately," said Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who turned away a season-high 37 shots in his third consecutive start.
"The games are all gonna be tight until the end of the year, they're all gonna be playoff-like games because everyone's fighting to make the playoffs right now."
With 35 points, Colorado (17-17-1) sits on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture. The Avalanche, though, have to like their chances of moving up given Giguere's recent efforts.
The 34-year-old veteran, who is 5-1-0 with a 1.80 goals-against average at home, ranks in the league's top five with a 1.87 GAA.
"I feel good right now, my body's feeling good, I have legs throughout the game which is always a good sign for me," he said. "Obviously the puck is finding a way to hit me right now, so I'll enjoy that as long as it lasts."
Giguere is 5-2-0 with a 2.39 GAA against the Lightning (14-17-2). Teammate Semyon Varlamov went 5-2-1 with a 1.87 GAA and two shutouts in eight meetings with Tampa Bay while with Washington.
Coming off back-to-back wins for the first time in more than three weeks and with forward Martin St. Louis returning to the ice, things seemed to be looking up for the Lightning heading into Wednesday's game at San Jose. Tampa Bay, however, suffered its second-most lopsided defeat of the season, falling 7-2.
St. Louis, held out the previous five contests after getting hit in the face by a puck during a practice, scored his fourth goal in five games.
"I felt encouraged," he told the Lightning's official website. "It was uncharted territory for me (wearing a visor) because I haven't worn one for 14 years, but they say I'll need it for probably a month so I better get used to it quick."
The Lightning have been outscored 32-15 in dropping six of eight on the road. They had gone 0-4-2 over their previous six meetings in this series before recording a 6-5 win Dec. 4, 2010, behind a goal and two assists from St. Louis.
Tampa Bay is 1-5-1 with one tie in its last eight visits to Colorado.
Mathieu Garon, who stopped just five of eight shots before getting pulled Wednesday, is 4-5-0 with a 3.28 GAA in his past nine starts versus the Avalanche.
Dwayne Roloson, 0-4-0 with a 5.09 GAA in his last six appearances, is 4-0-3 with a 2.65 GAA over his past seven matchups with Colorado.
|Dec 23 '11||TBL 1 at COL 2 - OT||M. Duchene|
|M. St. Louis||29||10||14||24||+2||6||1||0|
|D. Van Der Gulik||4||0||1||1||+2||2||0||0|