Avalanche-Oilers Preview

The Associated Press

The Colorado Avalanche are very much in the mix for a playoff spot, but they may need to improve their play quickly to stay there.

Getting a better result against the last-place Edmonton Oilers would certainly help.

Colorado looks to avoid a third straight loss overall and fourth in five meetings with Edmonton this season when the teams meet at Rexall Place on Friday night.

The Avalanche (28-26-4) are in the thick of the race for one of the Western Conference's final postseason berths, but their recent struggles haven't helped matters. They have gone 2-5-2 in their last nine while Calgary and Phoenix, two teams they are battling for positioning, have picked up their play in recent weeks.

The Avs looked to be coming out of their slump with back-to-back wins last week that followed a four-game skid, but they've since dropped two in a row. Colorado had managed to earn at least a point in four straight before falling 3-1 to Vancouver on Wednesday.

The Avs gave up the go-ahead goal with 6:29 remaining and could only manage Erik Johnson's goal - his second in two nights after scoring one in his first 50 games - midway through the second period.

Colorado was unable to take advantage of a strong performance by Semyon Varlamov, who replaced an injured Jean-Sebastien Giguere in the first period and stopped 20 of 21 shots. The Avs also lost winger T.J. Galiardi to an injury midway through the first.

"I thought we regrouped. We dug in," coach Joe Sacco said. "We faced a little bit of adversity there, but I liked the way our guys responded being short-handed on the bench."

The status of Giguere and Galiardi for Friday is uncertain. Varlamov has struggled in starting all four games versus the Oilers this season - his only four career matchups with Edmonton - going 1-3-0 with a 3.05 goals-against average.

Two of those games were at Rexall Place, both Avs losses. The Oilers took the most recent meeting there 3-2 on Jan. 31, holding on despite getting outshot 15-4 in the third period.

Devan Dubnyk made 31 saves in that game, but he hasn't started since Feb. 6 after allowing 13 goals over his last three games.

Veteran Nikolai Khabibulin has been in net for the last three contests and given up 11 goals, but he's faced the usual barrage of shots that he and Dubnyk have grown accustomed to. The Oilers (22-28-6) are giving up 31.4 shots on goal per game, among the worst marks in the league.

They only allowed 26 to Toronto on Wednesday and outshot an opponent for the first time in 12 games but lost 4-3 in overtime. Edmonton has dropped three of four since a 4-0-1 stretch.

The Oilers fell behind 2-0 in the opening 1:38 but rallied to force overtime.

"We had a slow start but came back hard and played a good game," said Ben Eager, who scored for the second straight game. "We had our chances to win, but unfortunately we couldn't convert."

Jordan Eberle scored in a fifth consecutive home game and has 10 goals in his last nine at Rexall Place.

Eberle leads the team with 25 goals overall and left wing Taylor Hall is next with 20 after scoring his second in as many games Wednesday. Hall has five goals and six assists in his last eight contests.

Edmonton's Sam Gagner has seven points against Colorado this season.