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Game Preview: Avalanche Vs. Wild

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Very few games are truly must-win affairs, but this afternoon's matchup against the Minnesota Wild certainly qualifies.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

You know how it's more than a little bit irritable to read about "must-win" games most of the season? Like the one guy who thinks the November road opener is a "must-win" in order to set the tone for the remainder of the year? Or the other guy who thinks Peter Forsberg Poster Giveaway Night is a "must-win" to properly honor the Hall of Famer's legacy? Yeah, these statements are nearly always absurd.

Today's game against the Minnesota Wild, however, truly is a "must-win" for a Colorado Avalanche team who wants to compete in this year's NHL postseason. The Central Division rivals have been neck-and-neck for the Western Conference's final Wild Card spot for more than a month, and the Wild have now jumped out to a three-point lead in the standings after their 6-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Friday. Zach Parise continues to twist a knife into Colorado's chest at the most crucial moments, scoring a hat trick in the 1st Period alone. NHL fans love to mock his $98,000,000 contract, but I'm pretty sure the Avs would love to pay double his salary to ship him to Mars at this point. Top pairing Erik Johnson and Francois Beauchemin will have their hands full all night trying to contain Minnesota's highest paid forward.

The showdown would be important but less crucial had Colorado taken care of business in the 3rd Period of their own game on Friday. After taking a 2-1 lead against the Philadelphia Flyers, Patrick Roy's team reverted to its dump-and-change, offensively-disinterested ways before giving up two late goals and forfeiting two points well within their grasp. A near sell-out crowd (including yours truly) walked away from the Pepsi Center absolutely dumbstruck by the results. How could a team that looked so dominant in the first half of the game be so systematically inept while up on the scoreboard? It was the seventh game the Avalanche have failed to even get into overtime with a 3rd Period lead this season -- a statistic that will haunt the team if they fail to make the playoffs.

Colorado will continue to be without top scorers, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, who have yet to even practice after suffering knee injuries last week. Their absence has been, and will continue to be, a major blow to the team and what they'd like to accomplish with their line arrangements. Without any roster flexibility, the forward combinations likely remain the same. Zach Redmond got the start on defense on the bottom pairing after sitting the previous three games. However, after getting only 4:31 of ice time, his position in the lineup is largely a formality. Patrick Roy is rolling 4.5 defenseman at this point, subbing Chris Bigras in on various pairings when necessary. Will the defense be out of gas again at the end of the game? No clue, but I think we'll have every available chance to find out.


Lineup

Boedker-Grigorenko-Comeau
Matthias-Soderberg-Landeskog
Martinsen-Mitchell-Iginla
McLeod-Rantanen-Skille

Beauchemin-Johnson
Holden-Barrie
Bodnarchuk-Bigras

Varlamov
Pickard


Etc.

Game time: 1:00 PM Mountain Standard Time
TV: FS-N and Altitude
Further Reading: Hockey Wilderness

...and now for your latest installment of Whyyyyyyyyy?