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.