Two seasons ago, the Chicago Blackhawks went from being an upstart team to Stanley Cup champions. After finishing up the best road trip in franchise history, the Colorado Avalanche are confident they can follow the same path.
In their return home Thursday night, the Avalanche will try to keep rolling by claiming the first leg of a home-and-home set with the Blackhawks.
With young stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane leading the way, Chicago ended a 49-year Cup drought in 2010. The Avalanche (5-1-0) won their most recent title in 2001, but the franchise has endured some difficult times lately.
Colorado finished last in the Western Conference in 2008-09, then rebounded to reach the playoffs a season later. A miserable second half in 2010-11 cost the Avalanche a chance to return to the postseason, but they appear ready to put that behind them.
Detroit spoiled Colorado's home opener by winning 3-0 on Oct. 8, but coach Joe Sacco's team started to thrive once it hit the road. David Jones' overtime goal at Toronto on Monday - his fourth in three games - gave the Avalanche a 3-2 victory and the franchise its first perfect trip of at least five games.
"It was a great road trip and the guys certainly played hard," Sacco said. "I thought as the road trip went on, we found ways to win. That's the sign of a good team, when you're not at your best and you find a way to win. It's a good start to the year for us, but now we have to move ahead."
The Avalanche will next try to match their best win streak from last season, which occurred Dec. 10-19 and, coincidentally, included a home-and-home sweep of the Blackhawks (3-1-1).
Colorado has won four of five matchups against Chicago in Denver and prevailed 3-1-0 in last season's series. The Blackhawks' lone victory came Jan. 12 at the United Center as Corey Crawford made 24 saves in a 4-0 victory.
After the salary cap hurt Chicago's chances of defending its Stanley Cup last season, it spent this offseason upgrading its roster by adding Andrew Brunette's veteran scoring, Steve Montador's defensive skills, and toughness from forwards Dan Carcillo and Jamal Mayers.
The acquisitions have helped the Blackhawks get off to a better start. They opened this brief two-game trip with their first road win Tuesday, a dominant 5-2 victory over Phoenix that featured Mayers' first goal.
Chicago outshot the Coyotes 35-16, and Marian Hossa scored after missing one game with an upper-body injury. Dave Bolland's short-handed tally in the third period was his team-best fourth.
"I thought it was rock solid across the board," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We got all the lines contributing. (Crawford) was good in the net. Our defense was active. I was very pleased with the effort."
The Avalanche and Blackhawks conclude their home-and-home Saturday night at the United Center.