Going into today, the Colorado Avalanche are tied with the Minnesota Wild for the last Wild Card spot in the Western Conference standings at 70 points a piece. The Wild, by virtue of having played one fewer game, would occupy the final postseason spot -- a result no rational hockey fan would care to see. Therefore, the Avs (33-29-4) had better start taking care of business with great frequency down the final sixteen game stretch.
Wednesday's 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers was a nice start, though it would have been better to witness a more, uh, comfortable victory. Relying on goalie Calvin Pickard to make 24-of-24 saves in the 3rd Period to preserve a one-goal lead is not a winning formula, and they'll need a better showing to defeat red-hot division rival, the Nashville Predators (32-21-12), this afternoon at the Pepsi Center.
Nashville is 7-0-3 in their last ten games, playing not just their usual brand of stellar defense, but also producing some impressive offense. Averaging 2.66 goals per game throughout the season (good for 11th in the NHL), they've managed to put up 3.20 since their last regulation loss -- including five-goal bursts against playoff teams like Florida, St. Louis, and Dallas. A big factor in the recent surge is forward Filip Forsberg, who had 12 goals in the month of February, and is tied with Matt Duchene for 10th on the NHL goal chart with 27.
The Avalanche will counter with their same lineup from Wednesday, including a second consecutive start in net for Pickard over the struggling Semyon Varlamov. Is it a goalie controversy? Not likely. Patrick Roy knows as well as anybody you have to ride the momentum of winning goalies; and right now, that guy is Pickard. If Roy has proven effective in any area as a coach, he's generally found the right motivational button to push and when. He knows a healthy and focused Varlamov is Colorado's best chance to get into the playoffs, and this move is the first step toward getting him back in net for the remaining month of games.
Landeskog - MacKinnon - Boedker
Grigorenko - Duchene - Iginla
Matthias - Soderberg - Comeau
McLeod - Mitchell - Skille
Beauchemin - Johnson
Holden - Barrie
Bigras - Bodnarchuk
Puck Drop is at 1:00 PM Mountain Standard Time
TV Coverage: Altitude, Fox Sports-TN
Stream: It's NHL.com's "Free Game of the Week" for those outside of blackout areas.