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Game 77 Preview: Avalanche at Blues

Today's game presents two different, yet equally important, opportunities.

Doug Pensinger

The Colorado Avalanche (49-21-6) come into St. Louis (52-17-7) today to face a Blues club that is only 7 points ahead of them in the standings. With both teams playing in their 76th game, this is as much a four-point game as you can get.

Not too long ago it seemed that the prospect of the Avalanche even sniffing at the tail feathers of the Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks was all but impossible. It was a foregone conclusion that St. Louis and Chicago would battle it out for the top spot in the division, and the Avalanche would be fighting off teams like the Wild and Dallas for third place. Yet we find ourselves looking at a much different scenario. Pundits have all but written off the Hawks as the second seed in the Central, conceding that the order will be STL, COL, CHI. Not so fast.

Although it would take some blown tires, it's still possible—not just statistically, but reasonably—for the Avs to overtake the Blues for that number one spot. How can that happen? It starts with the Avs winning today. That's a must. If that happens and (1) the Blues win no more than two of their final 5 games and (2) the Avs win out their final 5 games, we end up with an Avalanche-Wild Card Divisional Finals. Basically, the Avs need to gain and maintain 7 points on St. Louis (ROWs give COL the tie breaker) to make this fantasy a reality. Cool, huh?

Even if the division lead doesn't happen, this game is extremely important for another reason: if we hope to see the Avs go beyond the second round, it's probable they'll have to go through the Blues to get there. St. Louis is a good team. I mean, a really. good. team. It's also a physical team that has historically presented a huge challenge for Colorado. Two of the three previous meetings were blowouts in favor of St. Louis. In the third meeting, the Avs Blues eked out a one-goal win in a tightly-played game.

Both teams have been winning recently, going 6-3-1 (COL) and 7-3-0 (STL) in their last 10 games. Both teams are also setting records as the Blues just bested their season wins with their 52nd on Thursday, beating out the 1999-2000 squad. A win today and the Avs match the 2000-2001 Cup Championship team with a franchise-best 50 wins on the season (and will make Patrick Roy the 5th coach in NHL history to reach the 50-win mark in his first season behind the bench).

Lines are anyone's guess as Roy has said straight up that he's testing out theories down the stretch in preparation for the playoffs. Semyon Varlamov will start.

Colorado Avalanche 76 49-21-6 26-11-3 23-10-3 6-3-1 3.00 2.67 20.0 80.5 10.4 29.3 32.7 49.4
St. Louis Blues 76 52-17-7 28-6-4 24-11-3 7-3-0 3.08 2.18 20.5 86.0 13.1 29.3 26.3 51.4

Game starts at 12:00 pm MT and can be seen on Altitude and FS-MW.

For a view from the other side, check out St. Louis Game Time. Be nice.