NHL Hockey

Avalanche, sans Varlamov, host Blue Jackets

The Colorado Avalanche are riding a three-game winning streak, but if they want to extend it to four and even five games, they'll have to do it without their No. 1 goaltender.

Jonathan Bernier will be in net when the Columbus Blue Jackets visit Thursday night, with recent acquisition Andrew Hammond -- recalled from Belleville of the American Hockey League, where he was on loan -- will serve as the backup.

Bernier has been thrust into the starting role after Semyon Varlamov left Tuesday's 3-2 overtime victory over Winnipeg late in the second period with what the team called a lower-body injury. The cause for concern is Varlamov's history with groin injuries. He missed 58 games last year, including the last 40, with groin issues that eventually required double surgery.

Coach Jared Bednar told reporters after Wednesday's practice that Varlamov is "day-to-day" and will likely be out until after the team's off week, which starts after Saturday's game against Minnesota.

"It's muscular and he's feeling good this morning, which is a good sign," Bednar told HockeyBuzz.com. "He's in the same boat as (J.T.) Compher and (Sven) Andrighetto; they're all day-to-day and I would say doubtful to return before the break."

Varlamov had been 5-2-1 in his last eight games before Tuesday. When he left against Winnipeg, his team was leading 2-0 but the Jets got two goals in the third period, the last with 32.2 seconds left in regulation to send it to overtime.

Bernier played well, especially in overtime when he stopped Dustin Byfuglien on a breakaway just before Erik Johnson won the game with 9.9 seconds left.

Now the Avalanche (20-16-3) want to carry that momentum into Thursday's game against Columbus. The Blue Jackets are third in the Metropolitan Division and are coming off a 2-1 victory in Dallas on Tuesday.

Forward Oliver Bjorkstrand scored both goals -- 1:18 apart in the third period -- and has picked up some of the load with some key players out.

"He's an important guy for us with the guys out," coach John Tortorella told The Columbus Dispatch, referencing injured forwards Cam Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg and Brandon Dubinsky. "If we can get him going also offensively, along with his checking, it will be a big plus for us."

Columbus is coming off a successful 2016-17 season, although it was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. So far this season, the Blue Jackets have shown that last year wasn't a fluke.

Thursday's game will be their only visit to Denver, with the Avalanche going to Columbus on March 6 to complete the season series.

The Blue Jackets (23-15-3) are in contention without a dominant scorer. Josh Anderson's 14 goals leads the team while Artemi Panarin has a team-best 34 points.

What Columbus does have is a dominant goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky, who got his 200th career win in Dallas. He'll go against a Colorado team with a first line that is rolling.

Led by Nathan MacKinnon (17 goals, 31 assists), the Avalanche have relied on the trio, which includes Mikko Rantanen (10-game point streak) and captain Gabriel Landeskog (two hat tricks this season).

They'll need them even more to close out a successful homestand without Varlamov.

"It's starting to look like the bye week is coming at a good time for us," Bednar told HockeyBuzz.com. "Now we have a couple injuries that are starting to pile up here. Two more big games before the break and then we'll get some time off."

Columbus made two minor moves Wednesday by assigning center Zac Dalpe and defenseman Dean Kukan to AHL Cleveland on Wednesday morning. They were healthy scratches against the Stars.

Updated January 4, 2018

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