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Colorado Avalanche Game Day: Eric Staal and Nathan MacKinnon battle for the Hart

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Anton Lindholm returns to the lineup, Bernier returns to practice.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche
Minnesota Wild center Eric Staal (12) hits Colorado Avalanche center Alexander Kerfoot (13) during an attempt on goal in the second period at the Pepsi Center.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, the Colorado Avalanche will face the Minnesota Wild for the third time this season. The two teams have split the season series up until this point; the Avalanche winning 7-2 on January 6 at home, the Wild topping the Avs 3-2 in a shootout on November 24 in Minnesota.

Despite the Wild being six points ahead of the Avs in the standings, the Avalanche have played them well this year, especially at home. A win tonight would propel Colorado over both St. Louis and Anaheim — whom the Avs have games in hand on both — and into the second wildcard spot in the West.


Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche are coming into March having finished a road-heavy February with two big wins over Canadian teams at home. The Avalanche are an incredible 12-1-0 at home in their last 13 games with Nathan MacKinnon posting the best points per game in the league at home, 51 points in 29 games.

Tyson Barrie has been the second leading scorer for Colorado behind MacKinnon in the six games since the star center returned from injury. Barrie has been huge for the Avs with Erik Erik Johnson out long-term due to injury. He has been playing an average of 26:06 and has eight points in the same time frame.

Coach Jared Bednar noted yesterday in practice that defenseman Anton Lindholm will return to the Colorado Avalanche lineup after completing a full practice on Thursday. Lindholm will most likely skate on the teams’ third pairing with Duncan Siemens, keeping the top four intact.

Aside from Lindholm’s return to the lineup from injury, the Avs are going with the same lineup as they used against Calgary. Right-handed defenseman Mark Alt will remain in the pressbox since being acquired from Philadelphia on Deadline Day.

As With Lindholm moves out of the practice only group and into the lineup, Jonathan Bernier moves in with recent regular non-contact practicers Sven Andrighetto and Vladislav Kamenev. Good news all around!

Projected Lineup:

Forwards

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen

Tyson Jost - Alexander Kerfoot - Colin Wilson

Matt Nieto - Carl Soderberg - Blake Comeau

J.T. Compher - Dominic Toninato - Gabriel Bourque

Defense

Nikita Zadorov - Tyson Barrie

Samuel Girard - Patrik Nemeth

Duncan Siemens - Anton Lindholm


Minnesota Wild

Eric Staal and MHH have been two parts of a little bit of drama surrounding the NHL this week. Elliotte Friedman cheekily noted Staal as one of two Hart Trophy finalists along with Taylor Hall, who he wrote has been having a banger of a season earlier in the piece. Our site manager Tom Hunter tweeted Elliotte saying he missed MacKinnon in his calculations and got a reaction from the league’s top insider.

To Staal’s credit, he has been having a great season as well. Rejuvenated again in USA’s Canada, Staal (33-31--64) has led the Wild all season, and capped off an especially incredible February with First Star of the Month honors by the league.

Projected Lineup:

Forwards

Jason Zucker - Eric Staal - Mikael Granlund

Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle

Nino Niederreiter - Joel Eriksson Ek - Daniel Winnik

Marcus Foligno - Matt Cullen - Tyler Ennis

Defense

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba

Nick Seeler - Nate Prosser


Starting Goalies

Semyon Varlamov has been great at home this season, sporting a .933 save percentage in 18 games, behind only St. Louis’ Carter Hutton for best in the league. With Bernier returning to practice after suffering a concussion on February 16 against Winnipeg it will be interesting whether the coaching staff stick with Varlamov or go back to Bernier.

Since joining the Wild in 2014-15, Devan Dubnyk has been one of the most consistant goaltenders in the league, posting a save percantage between .918 and .923 every year. This season, Dubnyk is three percentage points below his .922 save percentage since his resurgence in Minnesota.