Avalanche visit Blackhawks clinging to playoff spot

By Tom Musick, The Sports Xchange  |  March 19, 2018 at 11:58 PM
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The Colorado Avalanche will look to maintain a foothold in the top eight spots of the Western Conference playoff race when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night at the United Center.

Colorado (39-25-8) has won four of its past five games and is in position to claim a wild-card playoff berth with 10 games left in the regular season. The Avalanche are seeking their first postseason appearance since the 2013-14 season.

"We're not worried about anybody coming out flat or not bringing their best, which is nice," Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon said to the team's official website. "Everyone is very confident in each other. That's what makes for a very good team. Everyone really trusts each other on this team. We have a full group of guys committed to the same thing."

For the past decade, such quotes have been common from Blackhawks players. But this season has been anything but common for Chicago (30-34-9), which will miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season. The previous decade has included nine straight playoff appearances and three Stanley Cup championships.

Despite the downturn, the Blackhawks insist they are determined to finish strong.

"A lot of guys this season have been humbled in a lot of ways with the way the season's going," Blackhawks right winger Patrick Kane said to the Chicago Sun-Times. "And for these young guys, they haven't really been around a winning culture yet. So it's important to try to keep that going, to try to keep winning games and get them to feel that feeling -- what it's like to win games in here and have that winning culture.

"I don't think that's anything we want to create in here, where losing is acceptable and it's OK if we lose a game because of the position we're in."

Kane leads the Blackhawks with 69 points (25 goals, 44 assists) in 73 games. He needs one more point to reach 70 for the seventh time in his career and the third season in a row.

Colorado is led by MacKinnon, who has 89 points (38 goals, 51 assists) in 64 games. The 22-year-old has set career highs in goals, assists and points and has garnered attention as a candidate for the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player.

"For me, if we get in the playoffs, he's the MVP," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. "I can't imagine there's another player that means more for their team and is doing more for their team than what Nate's doing for us. That's just the way I see it. I mean, he is the driving force to our offense."

Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov likely will make his 43rd start. He is 21-14-6 with a 2.73 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. In 20 career games against Chicago, he is 11-6-2 with a 2.36 GAA and a .930 save percentage.

The Blackhawks will counter with Jean-Francois Berube or Anton Forsberg in net. Berube is 2-4-1 with a 3.70 GAA and an .897 save percentage in 10 games. Forsberg is 9-15-3 with a 3.04 GAA and a .905 save percentage in 31 games.

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