Fighting for playoff lives, Blue Jackets take on Avalanche at home
The Blue Jackets find themselves in a scrum to make the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Rob Leifheit / USA TODAY Sports
The Colorado Avalanche are headed to the playoffs and have the chance to host a first-round series.
What they will not have is leading scorer Matt Duchene for the next four weeks.
The Avalanche will play their first game since Duchene sprained his knee as they travel to face another team in the postseason hunt, the Columbus Blue Jackets, on Tuesday night.
Colorado (47-21-6) has won three consecutive games to overtake Chicago for the second spot in the Central Division after Saturday's 3-2 win over San Jose. Duchene, who has 23 goals and 47 assists on the season, ran into teammate Jamie McGinn on the game's opening shift, and the injury to his left MCL will likely keep him out until May, which would include the first round of the playoffs, according to coach Patrick Roy.
Duchene, though, thinks he can return ahead of that timeline, tweeting today that "...the thought of not playing in the first round for me has been devastating. We have outstanding medical and training staff that will be helping me get ready ASAP. I will be doing everything in my power to be ready for Game 1... And if not then, shortly after!"
Rookie Nathan MacKinnon -- the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft who has 23 goals and 56 points -- will replace Duchene as the team's top-line center.
"You can't replace a guy like Dutchy. He's been good for us," MacKinnon said. "He has a ton of points for us this year, and he's been a huge difference for us. At the same time we're going to have to find ways to win without him, and we're deep and we have a lot of good players that we can do that."
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov will need to keep up his hot play as the team's offense finds its way without its top scorer. Varlamov has stopped 105 of 113 shots during the Avs' winning streak, and he leads the NHL with 37 wins.
One of those victories came on Dec. 31 in a 5-3 victory over the Blue Jackets in the teams only previous meeting this season.
Columbus (38-30-6) is currently in the eighth seed in the East, but there are two teams within two points in the standings. To keep their playoff drive going, the Blue Jackets must turn things around on their home ice -- where they've lost three of their last four.
Starting with the Avalanche, Columbus plays four of its next five at home and its final eight games over the next 12 days.
"As a coach in the back of your mind, we are coaching the game to win that game, coaching in the moment," coach Todd Richards said. "But you are also looking where you are going to be the next night or what you have coming up ahead. And we are playing 8-in-12 and that's present. So going into games, it is going to be about spreading the ice time around.
"There's just no time to recover afterwords."
The Blue Jackets are dealing with depth issues before the busy stretch. Forward Nathan Horton has been ruled out of this game with a lower-body injury,
while goalie Sergei Bobrovsky will be a game-time decision as he battles an illness.