The Colorado Avalanche haven’t given their fans much to cheer about this season, but with one more home game left, they can end their Pepsi Center schedule with a three-game winning streak.
The Thursday game against the playoff-bound Minnesota Wild will be Avalanche fans’ last look at the team that long ago clinched the worst record in the NHL.
Colorado (22-54-3) underwhelmed most of the year, but if it can beat Minnesota — a tall task considering the recent history between the teams — it would mark the third consecutive home win over the top three teams in the Central Division.
It is no consolation for Colorado, which has 13 home wins this season. Thursday will likely be the last game in an Avalanche uniform for many players after a disappointing season. Some of that disappointment was tempered by a 4-3 overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, but it was only the second win in 10 games for the Avalanche.
“It’s hard to say we’re coming around with the year we’re having,” said defenseman Erik Johnson, who scored the winner against the Blackhawks. “No matter what you got to keep pushing. There’s guys here who are fighting for jobs next year and kids who are trying to get better. For us as leaders we have to set the example and work hard and prove ourselves every night.
“Someone’s watching from somewhere around the league. It feels good to get a win any time this year based on how rough it’s been.”
The Wild have gone through a rough patch after sitting atop the Western Conference for a part of the season. Minnesota (47-25-8) won two straight after going 2-8-2 in its previous 10 games. The slide gave Chicago the opening to win the division, so the Wild will finish second and have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The goal in the last two games is to get healthy before the postseason. Jason Zucker, who missed the last three games with a lower-body injury, practiced Wednesday and will make the trip as will Jared Spurgeon, who sustained a lower-body injury in Tuesday’s win over Carolina.
“He’s coming on the trip,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “So, hopefully, he might get into Saturday’s game.”
Boudreau wouldn’t say if forward Chris Stewart, who missed the Tuesday game due to illness, would be on the trip to Colorado and Arizona, the Star-Tribune reported.
Like Chicago, the Wild come to Denver with nothing at stake. But after an extended slump, they are 3-1-2 in their last six games and staying sharp for the playoffs is also important in the last two games.
“We’d like to win ’em,” Boudreau told the Star-Tribune. “We’re paid a lot of money to win hockey games. We’d like to play as well as we can. I understand that it’s the 81st and 82nd game, and players will be looking forward to playoffs. But I think it’s important to keep the structure up and make sure we maintain what we gained in the last 10 games.”
No matter whom the Wild put on the ice Thursday, it will be tough for the Avalanche to get a win. Since the teams met in the 2014 first round — which Minnesota won with an overtime goal in Game 7 — the Wild are 10-3-1 against Colorado.
The Avalanche have fared better this season, going 2-2 against their rivals, and winning the season series would be a boost.
Colorado has not stopped playing hard despite being eliminated from the playoffs a month ago. It had a season-high 51 shots Tuesday night and is averaging 40 shots on goal in the past four games.
If the Avalanche can keep it up against Minnesota, Colorado fans would have something to cheer for in a season that hasn’t produced many opportunities for enthusiasm.
“It’s fun to get a win at home,” center Matt Duchene said. “It’s been hard to get them at home.”