Avalanche brace for Wild affair (Mar 02, 2018)
If the Colorado Avalanche continue their second-half surge and reach the playoffs, they will look back at victories such as Wednesday night's as a reason.
Colorado trailed 2-0 early in the second period and rallied for a 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames. It put the Avalanche one point behind the second wild card and continued their home dominance.
But the 12-1 record at Pepsi Center since Dec. 27 will mean little if Colorado can't continue to pile up wins and make the postseason for the first time in four seasons. What is significant is most of those wins have come against teams in playoff position or close to it.
Half of the current four-game homestand is in the books, but now Colorado (34-24-5) is facing two tough games to keep pace in the Western Conference. Nashville, which leads the Central Division, is in Denver on Sunday but the Avalanche can't afford to look ahead to that game. That's because the streaking Minnesota Wild visit on Friday night.
Minnesota (36-21-7) comes in after Thursday's night's 5-3 loss in Arizona and has hurt the Avalanche over the past five seasons. The Wild rallied to upset Colorado in seven games in the first round of the 2014 postseason and continued to dominate the series in the ensuing years.
Add to that the fact that Minnesota is one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now and it's a tough matchup for Colorado. But the Avalanche have dealt with tough situations while battling for playoff positioning.
"There's pressure to play well," defenseman Tyson Barrie said after Wednesday's game. "It's so hard to make the playoffs in this league and a bunch of us have been here a long time and only had one crack at it. We don't want it to slip away. We've worked so hard all year to put ourselves in position. At the same time you look at where we are from last year, so it's not all that pressure of being a top seed."
The Wild had won five straight before Thursday night and moved into third in the Central Division with 18 games left. A big reason Minnesota is streaking is the play of forward Eric Staal, who had a hat trick in Tuesday's 8-3 victory over St. Louis.
Staal was named the NHL's First Star for February on Thursday. He had 13 goals and eight assists to lead the Wild to a 9-2-2 mark in the month and was rewarded with much-deserved recognition.
"It is an honor," Staal told The Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "This is a great league with a lot of great players so to be recognized in that respect is nice for sure. It (speaks) a lot to the guys that I'm playing with. We have a great team and a good thing going, especially over this last month. You want to continue to carry that and hopefully continue it here heading into March."
Staal and his teammates face a banged-up Colorado defensive corps Friday. The Avalanche are without their top defenseman, Erik Johnson, who is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. They got good news at Thursday's practice when Anton Lindholm was activated from injured reserve after missing five games with an elbow injury.
Lindholm rejoins a group that has played well of late. The defense scored three of the five goals against the Flames, including Duncan Siemens' first NHL goal.
Colorado will need that production to beat the red-hot Wild and keep up hopes of reaching the postseason for the first time since 2014.
"We have a deep hunger to get to where we want to go," coach Jared Bednar said Wednesday night. "That's what it comes down to."