Blue Jackets-Avalanche Preview

The Colorado Avalanche are feeling confident but cautious about
a four-game winning streak that has them in the thick of the
Western Conference playoff race.

The Avalanche look to match their longest winning streak of the
season Thursday night when they host the NHL-worst Columbus Blue
Jackets in the teams’ second meeting in seven days.

After going 2-5-2 from Jan. 22-Feb. 15, Colorado (33-27-4) has
won five of six, including four straight. The Avalanche’s 4-1
victory over Anaheim on Monday helped them surpass last season’s
point total (68) with 18 games to play.

The Avalanche have outscored their opponents 17-5 during their
winning streak, which includes victories over playoff contenders
Detroit and Los Angeles.

“We’re bleeding confidence right now and it’s easy when you’re
playing like that,” said Matt Duchene, who Tuesday scored his first
goal since returning from a knee injury that cost him 20 games.
“But it’s not even March yet. We’ve got another month and at some
point we’re going to hit some adversity, so we’ve got to be ready
for that.”

Colorado will try to match its five-game run from Dec. 17-26
when it hosts Columbus. The Avalanche beat the Blue Jackets 5-0 on
Friday, breaking the game open with three goals in the third
period.

They had another big third period Monday, scoring three times
after Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan tied it late in the second period.

Steve Downie, picked up in a trade last week from Tampa Bay, had
two assists, giving him two goals and five assists in four games
with the Avalanche.

“He unnerves people,” coach Joe Sacco said. “That’s what I like
about his game, he makes people nervous on the opposition.”

Downie isn’t the only player stepping up. Semyon Varlamov has
given up one goal or fewer in four of his last five starts,
stopping all 28 against the Blue Jackets last week.

Columbus (18-38-7) hardly seems to be in any position to cool
the Avalanche. Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to Detroit was its third straight
as it gave up four unanswered goals during a 10:09 stretch in the
third period after taking the lead.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Rick Nash, who scored his 22nd goal of
the season in the opening period. “It seems like it’s the same
story. We hurt ourselves with our own mistakes … but it was a
good 49 minutes.”

The Blue Jackets have given up 14 goals in their last three
games and 26 in the last six.

Nash received a mostly warm reception from the home crowd a day
after staying put at the trade deadline despite it being revealed
that he requested a deal.

“It honestly meant the world to me to hear that,” Nash said.

Nash was held without a point against Colorado last Friday,
ending a six-game point streak against the Avalanche.

The Blue Jackets have lost three straight to the Avalanche and
are 1-7-2 in the last 10 meetings, getting outscored 40-18.