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BLUE JACKETS (27-46-7) at AVALANCHE (41-33-6)
TV: FS-Ohio (HD), ALTITUDE (HD)
Last 10: Columbus 5-5-0; Colorado 5-3-2
Season Series: Fourth and final meeting. The Avalanche have won twice in Columbus, but were shut out 2-0 by the Blue Jackets on March 1 in the only matchup at Pepsi Center. Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov has a 1.31 goals-against average and .955 save percentage in playing every minute of the series to this point.
Big Story: The Avalanche enter Thursday clinging to the thinnest of threads as far as their postseason aspirations go. Even if they beat the Blue Jackets, they could be eliminated later in the evening if the Sharks pick up at least a point against the Kings. In order to get in, Colorado needs to win this game and Saturday's season finale against Nashville while San Jose must lose twice in regulation to Los Angeles and Dallas can't pick up more than two points over its final two games against Nashville and St. Louis.
Blue Jackets: Rookie goaltender Allen York saw his three-game winning streak come to an end Tuesday night, but there was no faulting his Columbus teammates for their efforts in a 2-0 loss to a Phoenix squad also battling for playoff positioning. The Blue Jackets fired 54 shots on Mike Smith and the red-hot netminder stopped every last one for his third consecutive shutout. He set a record for most saves in a shutout in the process. Defenseman Jack Johnson led the way with eight shots, RJ Umberger had six and Derek Dorsett, Mark Letestu and Vinny Prospal took five apiece.
"(Smith) was awesome," Johnson said. "You need your goalie to play great. I thought we did a lot of good things out there, but we can't fault anyone but ourselves at the end of the day."
Avalanche: This will be the first game in six days for Colorado. Coming down the stretch, all the Western Conference teams had a game or two in hand on the Avalanche, and it caught up to them this past week as they had to watch their rivals add to their points totals while they were idle. Finally, the Avs can get back on the ice and try to do something about keeping their playoff hopes alive. In their final game before the extended break, Varlamov stopped 38 shots and Gabriel Landeskog and Erik Johnson assisted on goals by David Jones and Milan Hejduk in a 4-1 win Friday over Calgary.
"We're still thinking positive thoughts in here," forward Matt Duchene said earlier this week in the Denver Post. "We have a shot. Maybe not the best, but we are going to keep believing."
Who's Hot: Umberger has 8 goals in his last seven games for the Blue Jackets. York has not allowed more than two goals in any of his last four starts, posting a .942 save percentage. … Varlamov has turned aside 59 of 61 shots in his last two starts for the Avalanche, a .967 save percentage.
Stat Pack: The Blue Jackets' previous high for shots in a game was 53 in a 2-1 shootout win over the Wild on Oct. 28, 2005 -- in that case, the final four shots came during overtime. … The Avalanche didn't have a power play in their last game against the Flames, the seventh time this season they have failed to draw a man advantage.
Puck Drop: With Colorado's game facing off 90 minutes before the start of San Jose-Los Angeles, there will be plenty of scoreboard watching in the inner sanctums of the Pepsi Center afterward -- but only if the Avalanche win.
"We've got to take care of our own business first, which means beating Columbus Thursday. Hopefully, our last game (against Nashville Saturday) will mean something," Duchene said in the Post.
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