Avalanche-Blue Jackets Preview
The Colorado Avalanche are brimming with confidence after beating a team they're chasing in the Western Conference playoff race.
They'll now try to avoid a letdown against the league's worst team.
The Avalanche look to continue their dominance over the Blue Jackets on Friday night in Columbus.
After finishing a four-game road trip with one win, Colorado (30-27-4) bounced back with Wednesday's 4-1 victory over Los Angeles. The win pulled the Avs within two points of the Kings, one of the teams they're chasing for a playoff spot.
"This was a must-win game for us,'' said Semyon Varlamov, who made 32 saves for his 16th win - a new career high. "The playoffs are coming and we need every win.''
Colorado erupted for three first-period goals - the same number it had in the opening 20 minutes on its four-game trip - in winning for just the fourth time in the last month (4-6-2).
"From start to finish, we played our game and we didn't sit back,'' Paul Stastny said. "With big points at stake, sometimes you sit back and play a little defensive, which we didn't.''
Stastny had two goals against Los Angeles, production the Avs hope is a sign of things to come. The center leads the team with 16 goals, but had scored just once in his previous 12 games.
Matt Duchene, who has 12 goals despite missing nearly eight weeks with a knee injury, played Wednesday for the first time since Dec. 29. He assisted on Stastny's second goal, and had the winning shootout tally in Colorado's lone game against the Blue Jackets, a 3-2 victory in Columbus on Oct. 12.
The Avs are 8-1-0 against the Blue Jackets since 2009-10, and these teams meet again March 1 in Colorado.
Columbus (18-35-7) is well out of the playoff picture but is playing better, going 5-3-1 since Feb. 3. The Blue Jackets defeated San Jose 6-3 on Tuesday, the first time they'd scored more than five goals since an 8-1 win over St. Louis on Nov. 10, 2010.
"I think that's kind of what we envisioned at the start of the season,'' said R.J. Umberger, who had a goal and an assist. "It just didn't work out that way. Confidence has a lot to do with a lot of stuff."
Jeff Carter had a hat trick Tuesday, while captain Rick Nash had a goal and an assist in what could be one of the final games in a Blue Jackets sweater for each. Columbus figures to be a seller as Monday's trade deadline approaches, and Carter and Nash's names have been mentioned in potential deals.
Nash, who leads the Blue Jackets with 20 goals and 42 points, has scored in his last three games against the Avs.
Steve Mason finished with 30 saves against Colorado in October, and has posted a 4.20 goals-against average in losing his last seven starts in the series (0-5-2) - his longest active skid against any opponent.
Varlamov made 31 saves in his only career appearance against the Blue Jackets earlier this season. He has started the last five games for the Avs, going 2-2-1 with a 2.30 GAA as Jean-Sebastien Giguere recovers from a groin injury.