The Canucks are healthy and the Avalanche are healthy. This has been rare for both teams all year, but as these divisional foes and bitter rivals go head to head they have their teams intact and ready for the playoff run after relatively quiet deadlines.
The Canucks are on a roll and finally have their top four d-men in the lineup at the same time. Bieksa is back and after their blockbuster deal, they will welcome Matt Pettinger to their lineup to cure all their scoring woes.
Okay, a little sarcasm there, but as I state in another article, I like that Nonis didn't pull the big deal off. The Avs top guys will get all they can handle from Bieksa and Mitchell. Although Bieksa is not yet at his 26 minutes a game, so they will see Mitchell and a variety of partners most likely limited to Bieksa, Ohlund, and Salo, although Edler could pull some shutdown duty as well.
They will also see Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, and surprisingly Brad Isbister. Isbister, who has not been a regular most of the year, has found a nice job on the third line He's played pretty well in a shut-down role, which keeps fan-favorite Trevor Linden watching from the press box.
Matt Pettinger will likely figure in on the second line to start although expect Taylor Pyatt, who has played well lately despite playing on the fourth line, to see some time as well. The defensive pairings won't stay together but this is what Alain has started with, although Weaver sees very limited ice-time. Also good for the Canucks, the real Roberto Luongo has come to town just in time for the stretch run.
The only difference in this line-up is that Matt Cooke, who has been a staple in it for the past few years, is not a Washington Capital.
The Canucks will be going with:
As for the Avalanche, they are welcoming back quite a few players from various sources, as well as one newcomer.
They gave up Karlis Skrastins and bolstered their defense, welcoming Ruslan Salei from the Panthers, and welcoming back Adam Foote from the Columbus Bluejackets. Joe Sakic has just returned from injury, as have Ryan Smyth and Paul Stasny.
Also adding to the mix is the signing of Peter Forsberg who is ready to play, but we'll see just how effective he is. Either way, the Avalanche have a very potent attack, and have now shored up a defense that although talented now, has a legitimate number one shut-down defenseman to go along with the likes of Scott Hannan, Jeff Finger, Kurt Sauer, Liles, and Leopold.
At this point, Colorado's biggest weakness is their goaltending, with two very second-tier goaltenders who have not gotten the job done. I don't know who will start against Vancouver. Colorado needs to keep the puck away from their net because with both these guys, although they can be good, can also be very, very bad.
This game should be a very entertaining game, and I've got Colorado taking it 4-3 in a shoot-out.