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The banged-up Colorado Avalanche are enjoying their third winning streak this season of at least three games. The current one, however, is their first since losing star forwards Joe Sakic and Ryan Smyth to injuries.
The Avalanche look to match their longest win streak of the season Friday night, and they'll try to do it after losing yet another top player as they open a five-game homestand against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Already playing without Sakic, the best player in franchise history, the Avalanche were dealt another huge blow Jan. 3 when they learned Smyth, the team's third-leading scorer at the time with 28 points, would miss eight to 12 weeks with a broken right ankle.
Sakic, who hasn't played since Nov. 30, underwent hernia surgery last month and isn't expected back for close to two months.
The bad news kept coming for the Avalanche on Thursday. The team learned that center Paul Stastny, Colorado's leading scorer with 17 goals and 32 assists, had surgery to remove his appendix and will miss up to three weeks.
Stastny, who had appeared in 128 straight games to start his career, will miss the All-Star game Jan. 27 after being selected for the first time.
Colorado (25-18-3) lost three of its first four games without both Sakic and Smyth, but has rebounded to win three straight - all on the road.
Jose Theodore made 22 of his 32 saves in the third period, and Stastny had a goal and an assist as the Avalanche closed a five-game trip Tuesday with a 3-0 victory over Tampa Bay.
It was Theodore's 24th career shutout, and first since Feb. 28, 2004, with Montreal. He had gone 109 games without recording a shutout.
"It feels like it's been a while, obviously," Theodore said. "Every time you enter a game, you always think about the shutout. You want to win, but when you look back, it's always a bonus. A shutout is really a team effort."
Theodore has been in net for all three wins during the current streak, posting a 2.27 goals-against average.
"I thought he was rock solid," Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. "He looks real sharp in this last stretch of games, and tonight was as good as we've seen him."
Without Sakic, Smyth and now Stastny, the Avalanche will continue to depend heavily on younger players. They have had six players make their NHL debuts this season, a number bettered only by Chicago (7).
Stastny scored one of Colorado's two power-play goals Tuesday, its first road game this season with more than one. The Avs were 1-for-17 on the power play in their previous six contests.
Colorado will face Patrick Lalime - Chicago's usual backup goaltender - after he won his second straight start Wednesday, 6-1 over St. Louis.
Lalime made 32 saves and rookie Patrick Kane had two goals and an assist, leading the Blackhawks (21-21-4) to their second consecutive win following an eight-game skid (0-6-2).
"If he (Lalime) keeps winning, he'll keep playing," coach Denis Savard said. "He made some big saves when we needed them. He plays big in goal. He's been there before."
Nikolai Khabibulin, Chicago's top netminder and highest-paid player, has a seven-game personal losing streak (0-6-1).
Kane, the NHL's leading rookie scorer with 43 points, had gone nine games without a goal.
"Hopefully we can start a little streak here to make up for our losing streak," Kane said. "It was a good all-around team win."
Kane and Patrick Sharp each had a goal and an assist in Chicago's 5-3 home win over Colorado on Oct. 19.
This will be the first game for Sharp since he agreed to a four-year contract extension Thursday. Sharp already has career highs with 22 goals and 36 points in his third season with the Blackhawks, and leads the NHL with seven short-handed goals.