Avalanche-Predators Preview

The Associated Press

The Colorado Avalanche have won six of eight to climb into the playoff picture, but they know there's still a lot of work to do.

Beating the Nashville Predators for the first time in two years would certainly help their playoff aspirations.

The surging Avalanche look to avoid losing an eighth straight game to the Predators when they meet Thursday night in Nashville.

Colorado (35-29-4) is tied with San Jose and Los Angeles for the Western Conference's final playoff spot with 74 points, but both teams have games in hand. The remaining schedule also doesn't seem too favorable for the Avalanche - eight of their final 14 games are on the road.

"We have to win every game because we want to play in the playoffs," Semyon Varlamov said after stopping 21 shots in Tuesday's 7-1 win over Minnesota.

Varlamov has been instrumental to Colorado's surge, going 5-1-0 with a 0.84 goals-against average and two shutouts since Feb. 22.

While Varlamov, who has already set career highs in wins (20), games (41) and shutouts (4), is providing stability in goal, a couple of new faces have given the offense a boost.

Steve Downie had a career-high three assists Tuesday, while Jamie McGinn had a goal and an assist. McGinn was one of seven Colorado players to score as the Avs matched their biggest output of the season.

Downie, who returned to the ice after sitting out Sunday's 2-0 win in Minnesota with a shoulder ailment, has two goals and eight assists in seven games since being acquired from Tampa Bay. McGinn, acquired from San Jose at the trade deadline, scored both goals Sunday and also got in a fight Tuesday as the Avs swept the home-and-home series.

"Those two guys have made a good impact on our hockey team so far,'' coach Joe Sacco said. "It can get a little infectious. It can rub off on other guys.''

Sacco now hopes some of this strong play can positively affect his team going into a game against Nashville (38-21-7), which is in fifth place in the West with 83 points.

The Predators have outscored the Avs 29-14 in winning the last seven in the series since a 2-1 loss Jan. 22, 2010. In the two meetings this season, Nashville won in Colorado 4-1 on Jan. 10 and 3-2 at home two days later on David Legwand's second goal of the game 34 seconds into overtime.

The win over the Avs at Bridgestone Arena on Jan. 12 was part of a 12-game run in which the Predators earned at least one point (10-0-2). The streak ended with Tuesday's 5-4 loss to Los Angeles, Nashville's first regulation home loss since Jan. 5.

Tuesday's score was tied after two periods, but the Kings opened the third with two quick goals and the Predators couldn't recover.

"We have to play more consistent and have to play 60-minute games," said Patric Hornqvist, who scored twice. "We have to step up and get the forecheck going. We can't play like that."

Pekka Rinne had one of his worst showings of the season and was removed three minutes into the third period having allowed five goals on 24 shots. He had yielded two or fewer goals in each of his previous eight starts, going 6-1-1 with a 1.61 GAA.

Facing the Avs could help Rinne bounce back, as he has been in net for each game of the winning streak posting a 2.00 GAA.

Varlamov was between the pipes for one game against the Predators this season, stopping 22 of 26 shots Jan. 10.

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