Red-hot Avs host Sharks (Jan 18, 2018)
When Semyon Varlamov left the game against Winnipeg in the second period, it looked like the Colorado Avalanche were in trouble.
Colorado's No. 1 goaltender has battled groin injuries since coming to the Avalanche six years ago, and he and the organization hoped surgery last season would take care of it. But he hasn't played since that Jan. 2 game against the Jets, which seems like it would be a big problem for Colorado.
Quite the contrary. The Avalanche haven't lost since Varlamov went down five games ago. In fact, they haven't lost in 2018. Colorado (24-16-3) is riding a seven-game winning streak heading into Thursday's game against the San Jose Sharks, and Jonathan Bernier is a big reason.
Varlamov's backup has won six straight games -- five of them starts -- during the winning streak and has filled in admirably. He is 11-7-1 with a 2.67 goals-against average in 19 games and has two shutouts this season, and nearly had a third in the 3-1 win over Anaheim on Monday.
"I feel good, obviously," Bernier told hockeybuzz.com. "Once you win (six) in a row, you always feel good. But I think it's the overall team success. We're playing very good defensively, on the (penalty kill), and we've scored some big, timely goals."
Bernier will have to be sharp against a San Jose team that is also trending up. The Sharks (24-13-6) have won three in a row and have earned at least a point in eight of the last 10 games. They sit second in the Pacific Division, seven points behind the surprising Vegas Golden Knights.
The recent surge has coincided with the improved play of forward Mikkel Boedker, who has registered a point in three straight games and has played better since being a healthy scratch on Jan. 7. He had a goal in the 3-2 win over Arizona, his former team, on Tuesday.
"You never want to be healthy scratched, so there's always some sense of wanting to get back into things," Boedker told the San Jose Mercury News. "I know what I have to do, and I know what I can do. I've just got to keep on doing it."
As well as he has been playing, no one in the NHL is hotter than Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon. He has 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) since Dec. 1 and has five goals and nine assists during Colorado's winning streak.
The Avalanche will need him to continue that pace while players heal from injuries. Forward Tyson Jost won't play Thursday because of a leg injury suffered blocking a shot in Monday's win, and forward Sven Andrighetto (lower body) and defenseman Tyson Barrie (fractured bone in right hand) are still out.
Colorado will welcome back center J.T. Compher, who missed six games with an upper-body injury. The team also recalled forward Dominic Toninato from San Antonio of the AHL for depth.
If recent history is a guide, the Avalanche will be fine against another playoff-contending team. All seven of their wins on this streak have come against teams in playoff position or within a point of one.
The Sharks might be the toughest test yet, but Colorado is ready to extend its longest streak since winning eight in a row Dec. 31, 2005 to Jan. 17, 2006.
"For us, it's so tight, we can't get comfortable," MacKinnon said after Monday's win. "Our division, I think we're eight games over .500, we might still be in last place. It's crazy. I think we're back in a wild-card spot right now, depending how some other games go. We still have 39 games left, so we have to stay hungry."