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Break makes Hawks' trip a tad unorthodox

DENVER — As soon as the NHL's cozy holiday break ended, the Chicago Blackhawks raced to Denver and scrambled to get to ready for their game against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.

Since no team was allowed to have contact with their players from Dec. 24-26, per NHL rules, the Hawks flew into the Mile High City on Saturday morning and went directly to the Pepsi Center for a quick practice in preparation for the game’s looming puck-drop (8 p.m. CT).

(How’s that for a start to the second half of the season?)

The oddity of traveling and playing on the same day felt a little like preseason, some of the Hawks’ players said.

“We've all been through it before -- the preseason is like this,” said Patrick Sharp, who had a hat trick exactly one year ago when the Hawks beat the Avalanche 7-2 at the United Center. “It's a little different routine but it's something we've all had to deal with at one point in our career. I remember the game last year. Colorado flew to Chicago, so we're returning the favor. We want to make sure we come out and treat it like another game. These guys are playing really well."

In fact, the Avalanche are starting to play a lot like the team that rallied to win the Central Division last year. They’ve won three in a row and are 4-0-2 since Dec. 11.

The circumstances should favor them as well Saturday.

“We have three nice days off," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "We gave ourselves a nice gift before Christmas -- .500 hockey for the first time of the year. Now let's not look behind, let's look ahead and be ready for Chicago. It will be another good test."

The Avs will start goalie Calvin Pickard, who made 42 saves in a 3-2 loss to the Hawks in Denver a little over a month ago.

It’s not quite Hawks-killer Semyon Varlamov, who stifled and beat Chicago in net all three times the teams met in Denver last year. But Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said it might as well be.

“(Pickard has) played very well,” Quenneville said. “He sees a lot of pucks. He’s big, square -- kind of reminded me the way Varlamov played against us last year.”

Corey Crawford will start for the Hawks on Saturday, a few days after he let up three goals and was pulled in the first period of Tuesday’s 5-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.