Avalanche-Devils Preview

The Associated Press

The Colorado Avalanche have little room for error as they fight for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. The unexpected return of Matt Duchene could provide a lift as they continue a difficult stretch.

Colorado will look to win its fourth straight Thursday night when it visits the New Jersey Devils.

The Avalanche (38-30-4) are one of many teams fighting for the final few playoff spots in the West and have surged back into contention while going 9-3-0 in their last 12. They opened a three-game road trip with a 5-4 shootout win over Buffalo on Wednesday.

Jamie McGinn forced overtime by scoring with 2 seconds left in regulation - his second goal of the game - and Peter Mueller netted the lone shootout goal.

The Avalanche outshot the Sabres 16-8 in the third period and 42-24 overall. All three of their victories during this streak have been decided after regulation.

"This is the biggest win of the year," Mueller said. "To go from zero points to getting two with seconds left, you don't make that stuff up. It just shows the character of this team in that we never quit."

The Avalanche's trip doesn't get any easier with visits to New Jersey (40-25-5) and the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers on Saturday as they play six of their final 10 games on the road.

The Devils are also trying to improve their playoff seeding. In sixth place in the East, New Jersey is two points behind fifth-place Philadelphia.

Colorado will have some help as it continues this difficult stretch. Duchene is expected to return to the lineup Thursday after missing four games with an ankle injury. It was originally anticipated he'd miss three to four weeks.

Duchene has 13 goals and 26 points in 48 games. He returned in February after missing 20 games with a right knee injury.

While the Avalanche try to keep the momentum going, New Jersey looks to bounce back after a 3-0 loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday.

After defeating the Flyers 4-1 at home two nights earlier for their fourth straight win, the Devils came out flat in the second game of the home-and-home series. They were outshot 29-17, putting three shots on goal in the third period.

It was the second time this month the Devils were shut out and the third time in nine games. They had outscored their previous four opponents 15-4.

"We were outcompeted in a lot of the small areas of the game that we're usually pretty good at, and it showed," coach Pete DeBoer said. "They were better than us."

Ilya Kovalchuk was held without a point after recording nine in the previous four games. He remained on 399 career goals and has three in his last four games against the Avalanche, including one this season.

While the Devils may call on Martin Brodeur to start again Thursday, he gave up six goals on 25 shots in a 6-1 loss at Colorado on Nov. 30. He has lost his last three starts against the Avalanche.

New Jersey has won three straight at home, outscoring opponents 13-3.

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