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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Wednesday, March 12th (All times Eastern)

Chicago Blackhawks (38-13-14) at Colorado Avalanche (42-18-5), 9:30 p.m.

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Colorado Avalanche will try to beat the defending Stanley Cup champions for the fourth time this season when they welcome the Chicago Blackhawks for Wednesday's Central Division showdown at the Pepsi Center.

The Avalanche have been one of the pleasant surprises of the 2013-14 season, and Patrick Roy's club will try to continue that success in a big game against the Blackhawks.

After missing the playoffs in each of the past three springs, Colorado enters this battle just one point behind the reigning champs for second place in the Central Division. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, are five points in back of the first-place St. Louis Blues.

With the Avs sitting 12 points ahead of four-place Minnesota with 17 games to play it seems likely that Chicago, Colorado and St. Louis will earn the division's three automatic bids to the postseason.

Colorado is 3-1-0 against the Blackhawks this season and tonight's encounter marks the end of the regular-season series. Of course, if the Avs and Blackhawks finish in the second and third spots in the division then they'll face each other in the first round of the playoffs.

This is just the Avs' second home game against Chicago this season. Colorado opened the season series with a 5-1 home win over the Blackhawks on Nov. 19 and has won three of the last four encounters in Denver.

Colorado enters Wednesday's matchup having won five of its last six games. After having a four-game winning streak snapped in Saturday's 2-1 regulation loss against St. Louis, the Avs bounced back to beat Winnipeg in the second test of a four-game homestand on Monday.

Matt Duchene scored 2:33 into overtime to help the Avalanche beat the Jets, 3-2. Duchene extended his point streak -- the longest current run in the NHL -- to eight games. He has four goals and eight assists during the stretch.

John Mitchell added a goal and an assist for Colorado, while Semyon Varlamov grabbed the win with 33 saves, including one on a first-period penalty shot.

However, it wasn't all good news for the club as Colorado lost forward P.A. Parenteau to a right knee sprain that will keep him sidelined for four-to-six weeks. It's the second significant knee injury of the season for Parenteau, who missed four weeks earlier this season with a left knee injury suffered in late December.

Parenteau, who has 14 goals and 19 assists in 53 games in his second season for the Avs, joins fellow Colorado forward Paul Stastny on the shelf. Stastny expects to miss a second straight game with a back injury tonight. He is fourth on Colorado this season in goals (20) and fifth in points (47).

"It was unfortunate to lose P.A. tonight. It's a big loss for us, but we handled it well," Duchene said. "It's tough losing two key guys that are part of our unit."

The Avs, who will cap their homestand Friday against Anaheim, are 22-9-3 at the Pepsi Center this season.

Chicago has won two straight and three of its last four games. The club also heads into Wednesday's showdown with two days of rest following Sunday's victory in Buffalo. Jonathan Toews scored to a break a third-period tie and help the Blackhawks grind out a 2-1 road win over the lowly Sabres.

Buffalo native Patrick Kane had the other Chicago goal and Corey Crawford made 20 saves for the win.

Crawford will get a rest Wednesday in favor of backup Antti Raanta, who will make his first appearance since Jan. 28 at Calgary, when he was pulled midway through the game after allowing four goals on 15 shots.

Raanta, a 24-year-old rookie from Finland, backstopped Chicago to a 7-2 win over the Avs on Dec. 27, making 16 saves on 18 shots to help the Blackhawks earn their only win of the season against Colorado.

Varlamov will get the call for Colorado. The Russian netminder is 6-3-0 with a 2.22 goals against average and .936 save percentage in 10 career outings versus Chicago.

03/12 11:01:51 ET

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