Panthers-Avalanche Preview

Separated by almost 20 years in age, Jaromir Jagr and Reilly Smith are big reasons the Florida Panthers lead the Atlantic Division.

While Smith looks to increase his career-high goal total, Jagr could achieve another milestone as the Panthers try to win back-to-back road games for the first time in almost two months Thursday night against the Colorado Avalanche.

Smith scored twice and Jagr provided the go-ahead goal as Florida (36-19-8) avoided a third consecutive defeat and regained sole possession of the Atlantic lead with Tuesday's 3-2 win at Winnipeg.

Jagr, who turned 44 last month, and Smith, who will be 25 on April 1, share the team lead with 21 goals. Smith's second Tuesday set a career best in his fourth full NHL season and first with Florida.

''It's awesome when you join a new team and you're able to contribute like this,'' said Smith, two points shy of matching his 40 with Boston last season. ''Obviously, I've been given a great opportunity here and I've tried to do my best not to squander it.

"I'm playing with great players. It seems like they're trying to set me up all the time."

Jagr's sixth point in six games left him two behind Gordie Howe (1,850) for third all-time. Though Smith doesn't usually share the same shift as Jagr, he's no less in awe of the Panthers' points leader and future Hall of Famer.

''It's ridiculous, honestly,'' Smith said. ''You've kind of got to think twice, just because you don't want to squander the moments you have with pretty much a living legend, right? He's done a great job for our team this year.''

Though the Panthers are amid a 4-1-2 stretch overall, they have lost six of nine road games since winning a team-record six straight Dec. 15-Jan. 10. Florida had lost in Columbus and Minnesota to begin a five-game trip before winning Tuesday.

The Avalanche (32-29-4) are among the league's worst home teams at 14-14-4 and have fallen out of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference by losing three of four overall.

Eleven of the 19 goals they've allowed during that stretch have come in the third period. Minnesota scored three times, two into an empty net, in the third of Colorado's 6-3 loss Tuesday.

Semyon Varlamov has a 4.80 goals-against average in his last three starts and was pulled after giving up three on 12 first-period shots Tuesday. That's given Avs coach Patrick Roy reason to start Calvin Pickard in this contest.

Pickard, who stopped 15 of 16 shots in relief against the Wild, has won two straight starts and owns a 1.94 GAA in his last four appearances.

"(Pickard) is probably going to play the next game," Roy told the team's official website. "I'm not going to throw Varly under the bus here. There are highs and lows in a career, and those things happen. Right now, it's bit of a tougher time for him and Picks has been playing really well."

Colorado's Jarome Iginla scored his 19th goal of the season Tuesday to tie Dino Ciccarelli for 17th place all-time with 608. Iginla, who turns 39 in July, had a five-game point streak against Florida snapped in a 4-1 road loss Oct. 27.

Roberto Luongo made 31 saves that night to improve to 8-1-0 with a 1.53 GAA in his last nine starts against the Avalanche. He's 14-1-2 against them since the beginning of 2009-10, including 6-0-1 in Denver. Luongo has a 1.82 GAA in his last five games overall.

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