Blue Jackets-Avalanche Preview
While they realize their chances of making the playoffs are slim, the Colorado Avalanche are still holding out hope.
The Avalanche need plenty of help along with non-shootout wins in each of their final two games, the first of which comes against the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night.
Colorado (41-33-6) returns from a five-day break trailing eighth-place San Jose by four points in the Western Conference with two games remaining for each team. The Sharks would have to lose both in regulation while the Avalanche win each of theirs in regulation or overtime to have a shot at making the playoffs, though they'd also have to pass a Dallas team which is currently one point ahead of them.
"We can only control what we can control. We're trying to stay positive and upbeat. We're still having fun playing hockey," forward Gabriel Landeskog said. "We've been playing desperate hockey for the last month and a half, and that's what we have to keep doing. We have to turn it up a notch because every game is going to matter even more now.
"It doesn't matter if we're in the playoff picture or not, we've still got to finish strong."
The Avalanche will try to do just that at home, where they are 4-0-1 in their last five games and 8-2-1 over the past two months. After facing Columbus (27-46-7), they host Nashville on Saturday to wrap up the regular season.
Colorado would seem to catch a break in the schedule with the first of those games coming against the league-worst Blue Jackets. The Avs have won nine of 11 versus Columbus and 17 of 21 all-time meetings in Denver, though they lost 2-0 at home in the most recent matchup March 1.
Steve Mason stopped 33 shots in that win for the Blue Jackets, but Colorado might see surprising rookie callup Allen York in this one. Mason has been out since taking a puck to his mask during practice last Wednesday.
The 22-year-old York, who played in the ECHL and AHL this season, is 3-1-0 with a 1.76 goals-against average in Mason's absence but didn't get any help in a 2-0 defeat at Phoenix on Tuesday. Columbus was shut out for the fifth time this season despite a franchise-record 54 shots on goal and seven power-play opportunities.
"We had a few breakdowns but we deserved a better fate," York said. "We played really well in front of me for most of the game."
The Blue Jackets had won its previous three games - two over first-place teams Florida and St. Louis and one over playoff-bound Detroit. R.J. Umberger totaled five goals in those games and had a hat trick during a win over Carolina on March 23.
It will likely be up to Semyon Varlamov to keep Umberger from adding to that scoring binge. The 23-year-old Russian has allowed one goal in each of his last two starts and snapped a four-game slide by making 38 saves in a 4-1 win at Calgary on Friday.
Varlamov, who has made seven consecutive starts, is 2-1-0 with a 1.31 GAA and a shutout in three career matchups against the Blue Jackets - all this season.