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Jackets, Avalanche look to snap slumps in Finland

Sportsnaut
Oct 17, 2022; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen (96) celebrates his goal during the second period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Avalanche have had a tough schedule to start the season. Six of their first nine games have come in back-to-back sets and they’ve already played on both American coasts.

So traveling to Finland for a fourth back-to-back seems normal for Colorado.

The Avalanche will take part in the NHL Global Series with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday and Saturday. Friday’s game will air at noon in Denver and 2 p.m. in Columbus. Puck drop in Tampere, Finland, is at 8 p.m.

The Avalanche are coming off consecutive losses to New Jersey and the New York Islanders but it will be nearly six full days since they played when they face the Blue Jackets.

Both teams flew to Finland early in the week and have been practicing while getting adjusted to the time change and culture.

“Our schedule has been a little bit strange,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “We’ve had days off stacked on top of days off.”

Two Avalanche players who don’t need to get used to the country are Finland natives Mikko Rantanen and Artturi Lehkonen.

Lehkonen grew up approximately two hours from Tampere and, like Rantanen, is expecting many familiar faces in the stands.

“You’ve got a bunch of people who want to come to the game,” Lehkonen said. “Try to get as many tickets as we can so all family members can come and watch the game.”

One face Colorado will welcome is the return of Valeri Nichushkin, who has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury. Nichushkin was practicing Thursday and is hopeful to play Friday.

Columbus is focused on breaking out of a slump as well as enjoying the local scenery. The Blue Jackets have lost their last three games and have been outscored 17-4 in those losses. They have allowed three or more goals in all but one of their 10 games.

“The legs are starting to get under us,” forward Jack Roslovic said. “We are a serious team and we need to start playing a little better.”

Columbus holds the distinction of being the last Eastern Conference team to beat Tampa Bay in a playoff series when it swept the Lightning in 2019 but lost in five games to them the next season. The Blue Jackets haven’t been back to the playoffs since but have higher hopes after signing Johnny Gaudreau to a free-agent contract in the summer.

Gaudreau has produced five goals and eight points in 10 games but the defense and goaltending have been porous. Elvis Merzlikins (4.75) and Daniil Tarasov (3.57) have a combined 4.29 goals-against average.

A week off and a transatlantic trip may help Columbus get things turned around.

“It’s a pretty exciting trip for a lot of guys, some guys that are from here,” coach Brad Larsen said. “For us as a team, as an organization, this is a neat experience. “I think this a real good opportunity for the team to enjoy what Finland has to offer, but we have to make sure we are focused when we have our practice time and are getting ready for the games.”

–Field Level Media