|4:30 PM PT5:30 PM MT6:30 PM CT7:30 PM ET0:30 GMT8:30 5:30 PM MST7:30 PM EST4:30 UAE (+1)19:30 ET21:30 BRT, February 22, 2019
United Center, Chicago, Illinois Attendance: 21,653
Improving Avs visit Chicago for pivotal battle
The Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks each will go for their third consecutive victory when they face off Friday night on the Blackhawks' home ice.
Both teams are tied with 61 points in the Western Conference standings, although Colorado has a game in hand. Players from both sides know the matchup can affect the playoff picture with one-quarter of the regular season to go.
Colorado (25-24-11) is coming off back-to-back wins over the Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets. The Avalanche have bounced back from an eight-game winless streak to collect six of eight possible points since Feb. 14.
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov has been instrumental to the turnaround. The 30-year-old Russian has allowed only four goals in his past four starts, stopping 120 of 124 shots (.968 save percentage) in the process.
For the season, Varlamov is 16-15-8 with a 2.79 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage.
"When you know you're getting that type of goaltending, it just allows your team to play and play confident and aggressive," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said to the Denver Post. "It's a huge difference in our hockey team over the last couple weeks, knowing we're getting that goaltending."
Chicago (26-26-9) also believes it has a realistic shot at the postseason thanks to a remarkable second-half surge. The Blackhawks are coming off back-to-back wins against the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings, giving them 10 wins in 12 games.
If anyone can challenge Varlamov's recent hot streak, it is Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane. The 12th-year veteran has a 19-game point streak, which is the longest in the NHL this season. He now has the two longest point streaks ever by a U.S.-born player, including his career-high, 26-game point streak during the 2015-16 campaign.
Kane did not record an assist, ending his 17-game assist streak, which is tied for the third-longest in NHL history. But he did score twice, including the game-winner in overtime.
The Avalanche counter with a couple of top scorers in Gabriel Landeskog (31 goals) and Nathan MacKinnon (30).
MacKinnon reached the 30-goal milestone for the second straight season Wednesday against Winnipeg. That made him only the third Avalanche player to post back-to-back, 30-goal campaigns since the franchise moved to Colorado for the 1995-96 season, joining Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk.
The Blackhawks have two options in net: Cam Ward (14-9-4, 3.69 GAA, .894 save percentage) and Collin Delia (6-3-3, 3.43 GAA, .912 save percentage). Both netminders have split time with Corey Crawford sidelined by a concussion.
First-year coach Jeremy Colliton said his players could not afford to relax because of their recent success.
"Still need to work on our game," Colliton said to the Chicago Tribune. "(Our) game isn't where it needs to be for us to compete in the playoffs, and we're going to have to play better to get the points we need coming down the stretch. We keep finding a way to do it, and that's a credit to the character we have in our group that they find ways to do it no matter what."
This is the third of five regular-season meetings between the Blackhawks and Avalanche this year. Chicago has won each of the first two contests, a 2-1 victory Dec. 21 and a 3-2 victory in overtime Dec. 29. Both of those games took place in Denver.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 21, 2019