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It is a battle of a pair of surging teams as the Colorado Avalanche head to the Bell Centre to take on the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night for a 7:30 tilt.  Both teams have made significant roster changes over the past couple of weeks that seem to be paying off for their respective clubs.  


The Avalanche find themselves a healthy 6 points ahead of Vancouver in the Northwest Division, and just 3 points behind Detroit for the top record in the NHL.  Montreal on the other hand, currently sits 7th in the ultra-tight Eastern Conference, just 2 points behind idle New Jersey for 6th.  The Canadiens have been on fire as of late, earning at least one point in 10 of their last 11 games (9-1-0-1).  Colorado has won 4 straight games, their longest stretch since January 30th to February 11th of 2003, outscoring their opponents by a score of 19-7 in that span.


The Canadiens are expected to have some injury relief tonight, as it is expected that wingers Jan Bulis and Niklas Sundstrom will be activated off the injured reserve in time to play in tonight’s contest, but will be without the services of winger Jason Ward, who will not play tonight due to illness..  To make room for them, head coach Claude Julien is foregoing the accepted belief “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and has re-arranged 3 of the team’s forward units, however, it does not allow press box regular Pierre Dagenais to return to the lineup, as was expected to be the case yesterday.  The lines are expected to look as follows:

(94) Yanic Perreault – (11) Saku Koivu – (20) Richard Zednik

(73) Michael Ryder – (71) Mike Ribeiro – (27) Alexei Kovalev

(38) Jan Bulis – (34) Jim Dowd – (37) Niklas Sundstrom

(15) Darren Langdon – (22) Steve Begin – (24) Andreas Dackell

Scratches:  (90) Joe Juneau (healthy), (17) Jason Ward (illness), (26) Pierre Dagenais (healthy)


The Avalanche will also have a different looking lineup tonight, including trade deadline acquisitions Matthew Barnaby, Chris Gratton, and Ossi Vaananen.  Colorado is dealing with quite a few injuries heading into tonight’s game; they will be without centres Peter Forsberg, Andrei Nikolishin and Steve Moore, who is recovering slowly but surely from the Todd Bertuzzi incident.  Also, they will be missing their second leading scorer and assists leader Alex Tanguay, as well as wingers Marek Svatos and Dan Hinote, along with defenceman Bob Boughner.  To replace Nikolishin, Colorado recalled forward Travis Brigley from Hershey (AHL) earlier in the afternoon.


The Avs have owned the Canadiens the past few seasons, in fact, they have not lost to the Habs since December 8th, 1997 in regular season contests.  Over that time, they have compiled a 6-0-2-0 record in the 8 games played vs Montreal.  In their last meeting, the Avalanche won an uncharacteristicly offensive battle, with Radim Vrbata scoring on the powerplay in overtime to give the Avalanche a 7-6 victory back on December 7th, 2002.


There are plenty of streaking offensive players who are expected to play in this one, as the latest offensive player of the week – Joe Sakic has 15 points in his last 7 games, while linemate Milan Hejduk has 11 points over that same span.  Last week’s top offensive player – Richard Zednik is also on fire as of late, with 6 goals and 6 assists in his last 7 games.  Linemate Yanic Perreault has also picked it up lately, scoring 8 points in his last 6 contests.


David Aebischer is expected to start for Tony Granato’s squad tonight, after watching newly-acquired Tommy Salo defeat Phoenix 4-1 this past Sunday.  Jose Theodore will counter for the Canadiens.  It’s a 7:30 start from the Bell Centre.  As always, RDS will cover the game, while CJAD and CKAC will be broadcasting over the airwaves.