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Game 49: Maple Leafs at Avalanche

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After beating the Coyotes last night, the Maple Leafs head to Denver to finish their series against the Colorado Avalanche.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Spo

The Toronto Maple Leafs come to town tonight to conclude their season series with the Avalanche.  The last time these two teams met, they tested their perfect records against one another and the Avalanche emerged victorious.  In that game, Semyon Varlamov turned away 22 of 23 shots and the Avalanche won 2-1 with goals from Cory Sarich and PA Parenteau.  Fittingly, Parenteau, who scored the game winning goal in their first matchup will return to the lineup for the Avalanche after missing several games with an unspecified knee injury.  The Avalanche are one of the NHL's hottest teams heading into tonight's game. They are riding a 4-game winning streak and are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, and sit just four games back of the St. Louis Blues. Even more impressive, the Avalanche trail the Cental's best Blackhawks by just 1 win (though they lead the Blackhawks in ROWs), the only real difference in their points in the standings comes from Chicago's 11 overtime losses.

On the other side of the ice, the Maple Leafs have also caught fire this week, in what has been an up-and-down season all year.  The Leafs are winners of 5 straight, and have climbed back in to the East's wildcard spot with 6 wins in their last 10 games.  Of course, it wouldn't be hockey season in Toronto without the annual Maple Leafs witch hunt. From Phaneuf to Grabovski, and even our own J.S. Giguere, the microscope of the Toronto media has been tough on a number of quality hockey players over the years.  Toronto's newest victim? Nazem Kadri.  Whethere it's Crosby, Carlyle, or the slew of Toronto rumor mongers, Kadri has been the brunt of more than his fair share of criticism and the majority of Maple Leafs trade rumors this February will likely revolve around the young centre.  (Prepare for: Stastny for Kadri and a 2nd rumors? Yuck).  Kadri has 5 points in his last 3 games, including a goal and an assist in the Leafs 4-2 win over the Coyotes last night.  While Kadri's been dangerous of late (sorry Cheryl), the Avalanche's biggest challenge will be shutting down US Olympian and glamour model Phil Kessel.  Kessel has 3 goals and 10 points in his last 5 games and leads the Maple Leafs with 50 points.

Avalanche Projected Lineup:

Jamie McGinn - Matt Duchene - Ryan O`Reilly

Gabriel Landeskog - Paul Stastny - Nathan MacKinnon

Cody McLeod - John Mitchell - Max Talbot

P.A. Parenteau - Marc Andre Cliche - Patrick Bordeleau

Jan Hejda - Erik Johnson

Nick Holden - Andre Benoit

Ryan Wilson - Tyson Barrie

Semyon Varlamov

Notes:

- PA Parenteau makes his return to the Avalanche lineup, but Coach Roy says he'll be playing his way up the depth chart from the 4th line.

- The Avalanche's bottom 2 defensive pairings have a little extra pressure these days, with Nate Guenin poised to return from injury and Cory Sarich not far down the road. Players getting healthy, combined with the looming Olympic Trade Freeze means that some guys may be playing for their jobs.

- Semyon Varlamov looks for his 17th consecutive game with a point. He will play again Friday in Florida, and J.S. Giguere will take the net for the first time since his injury on Saturday in Tampa Bay.

Maple Leafs Projected Lineup:

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel

Nikolai Kulemin - Nazem Kadri - Joffrey Lupul

Mason Raymon - Peter Holland - Troy Bodie

Carter Ashton - Jay McClement - Colton Orr

Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf

Cody Franson - Tim Gleason

Jake Gardiner - Morgan Rielly

Jonathan Bernier

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