Blue Jackets can put crimp in Avs' postseason hopes
Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 10:44 AM
NHL.comAVALANCHE (30-27-4) at BLUE JACKETS (18-35-7)
TV: ALT (HD), FS-O (HD)
Colorado 4-4-2; Columbus 5-4-1
Second of four meetings. Colorado and Columbus haven't seen one another since the opening week of the season, when the Avalanche claimed a 3-2 shootout win over the Blue Jackets on Oct. 12 at Nationwide Arena. Gabriel Landeskog
forced overtime by scoring his first NHL goal with 40 seconds remaining, and Matt Duchene
had the decisive tally in the penalty-shot tiebreaker.
The Avalanche are starting to get the goaltending they expected out of Semyon Varlamov
when they dealt a pair of high draft picks to the Capitals last summer to acquire him. A groin injury that sidelined veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere
briefly has led to Varlamov starting the last three games for Colorado, and since finishing out the Feb. 15 game against Vancouver when Giguere went down, he's posted a .925 save percentage. Giguere was back in uniform on Wednesday, but Varlamov still started and turned in a 32-save performance against Los Angeles.
With its sights set on the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot, Colorado picked up a decisive win over the team occupying that position at the time, thanks in large part to Varlamov and forward Paul Stastny
. Their fingerprints were all over the 4-1 win over the Kings that drew the Avalanche two points closer (though Calgary has the chance to leap Los Angeles into eighth on Thursday night). Stastny had a pair of goals, including the game-winner, and Varlamov carried a shutout into the third period. Mark Olver
and Jay McClement
had the other goals.
"Everybody knows it was a big game," coach Joe Sacco said. "One of the things that we talked about was that we start on time, and we did. It was one of our better starts lately. It keeps us right in the thick of things."
As the clock ticks down to Monday's trade deadline, Columbus has been hanging in quite well on the ice despite all the distractions off it surrounding players like captain Rick Nash and newcomer Jeff Carter. The Blue Jackets have put together one of their best 10-game stretches of the season, taking the Rangers to overtime in New York on Sunday before falling, and following that up with a 6-3 win Tuesday over the Sharks. Carter recorded a hat trick, two of the scores coming during a four-goal first in which RJ Umberger and Nash also lit the lamp.
"I think that's kind of what we envisioned the start of the season," Umberger said. "It just didn't work out that way. Confidence has a lot to do with a lot of stuff. Tonight we got it early in the game."
Landeskog has two goals and two assists in his last three games for the Avalanche. Olver has two goals in three games since being called up, matching his output in 18 games last season. … Nash has goals in consecutive games for the Blue Jackets, while Umberger has two goals and two assists in his last three games.
Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson
, who entered Wednesday's game with three goals and one assist during a four-game points streak, played just 4:26 before departing due to back spasms. He's day-to-day. Forwards Peter Mueller
and TJ Galiardi
are on injured reserve with upper-body injuries. … Columbus defenseman Aaron Johnson (lower body) missed Tuesday's game, while fellow blueliner James Wisniewski (groin) has missed two straight. Goalie Curtis Sanford (back), defensemen Radek Martinek (concussion) and Marc Methot (jaw) and forwards Kristian Huselius (groin) and Jared Boll (foot) are on injured reserve. Sanford and Boll have been practicing, and it's possible Sanford could be activated for this game.
Stat Pack: Steve Downie
had a shot on goal and a minor penalty while skating 21 shifts for 16:20 of ice time in his debut with the Avalanche against the Kings. … Blue Jackets rookie David Savard had the second multi-point game of his career against the Sharks with a goal and an assist.
This game sets up as a trap for Colorado, which can't afford to let two points slip away against the last-place team in the League or overlook the fact Columbus has been playing much-improved hockey over the past several weeks.