There is a simple answer to the question of how the Colorado Avalanche can get into the playoffs; Win.
Winning solves all problems. The roller coaster that is the 2018-2019 season has but 12 games remaining (seven at home, five on the road) and the Avs find themselves on the outside looking in for the last wild card position. All hope is not completely lost but the Avalanche have put themselves in the position of needing to start stringing together wins and accumulating points in bunches over the last few weeks of the season. Making the playoffs for a second straight year would be a huge accomplishment for a team that was embarrassingly bad two seasons ago. Continuously appearing in the postseason is a very important part of a young team’s growth towards contention.
So let us take a look at the remaining 12 games and decide for yourself if you feel like Colorado has a chance to extend their season.
If the Avs went on a miraculous run and ran the table with the remainder of the season, they would add 24 points to their current total of 72 and we wouldn’t have to worry about if that is enough to get in the playoffs. They would skate in with ease. We all know the possibility of that happening is as close to Nikita Zadorov not taking a penalty the rest of the year, so what will the Avs need to pull off to make it?
As it stands right now Colorado is not only on the outside of the playoffs, they have the Arizona Coyotes above them in the standings. After getting healthy, the Coyotes have gone on a run, winning eight of their last nine games before last night. That puts them one point out of the last Wild Card spot, currently being held by Minnesota with 74 points.
With the season winding down all games are important, and if the Avs can get through this current week without losing any ground in the standings (Carolina, Anaheim and New Jersey), it is next week that will most likely determine the fate of the season.
The week of March 18th is where things will get down and dirty. Let’s call this the ‘Death Stretch’. It will be make or break hockey. March 19th will start a ten day stretch of games where Colorado will play five out of six against either a division rival or a team just as much in the mix for those wild card positions as they are.
On March 19th and 21st the Avs will play road games against Minnesota and Dallas, respectively. The two teams who currently hold those coveted Wild Card spots. Losing ground in either of those games simply cannot happen if the Avalanche want to remain relevant in the playoff hunt.
Then on the 23rd and 24th Colorado plays a hone-and-home against Chicago, a team that has fallen back from the pack a bit but still will be fighting to climb back into the race. A couple days off will follow with a road game against Vegas then a home game versus the Coyotes on the 29th. It goes without saying the season comes down to these games. The Avs might be on the outside at the moment, but when you have games against every team that is just above you in the playoff standings things can change in a hurry.
Once that Death Stretch of games is finished the Avalanche still have four more games to complete the regular season. On April 1st Colorado plays a road game against St. Louis which could be an important game to the Blues if either Dallas or Minnesota is pressing them in the standings at that point. On April 2nd it’s back at the Pepsi Center against Conner McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton has been playing much better hockey recently but might have turned the switch on too late in the season for them to catch a playoff spot. Nonetheless, they are a team that will no question want to end the season on a high note getting as many points as possible. So a walk in the park win should not be expected here.
Finally, the Avs wrap up the season with an away game in San Jose who could be fighting for seeding in the playoffs - but if everything is locked up by then, there is a very good chance the Sharks will be resting some of their veterans.
With 24 points left on the table and the Avs sitting at 72, a comfortable number to get in the playoffs would be 90. While getting 90 is of course no guarantee, reaching that number would put them is a pretty good spot. Getting to 90 would mean the Avs need to find 18 more points, which means winning nine out of the last 13. Is it possible the Avs could go 9-4 to finish the season?
Luckily with the way the West has been this season, it might not even take that many to get to the playoffs.
The Avalanche have seven home games left and if they get five wins out of those eight then according to our ‘needing 90’ format they would have to find four road wins. Looking at the schedule for four road victories might be a difficult ask. With the remaining road games at Minnesota, Dallas, Chicago, St. Louis and San Jose it’s no easy task to assume winning four out of the last five road games. Taking care of home ice would, again, make our needing 90 scenario more possible.
The way the standings are now Colorado will have great interest in what Dallas and Minnesota will do since they are the place holders of the Wild Card positions (with St. Louis holding a slim lead over them both). When it comes to remaining games left against division rivals for these three teams Colorado has six games left against division foes where both Dallas and Minnesota play five. At this point of the season that extra game against the division might hold more weight.
The Wild and Stars will play each other twice including them paring up in the last game of the season. We just need to cross our fingers for regulation wins - three point games would be a kiss of death.
Anything can happen over the next few weeks but for now with Dallas ahead of Minnesota, Colorado will be rooting for the Stars to take both of those games. Again, if Colorado doesn’t take care of their own schedule none of this matters.
Interestingly, there is another team that plays the Central Division six times in what is left of their season, the Arizona Coyotes. So again, if Colorado does what they need to do, and the Central Division gives the Avs some help in beating the Coyotes, Colorado should be able to jump Arizona easily. However, Minnesota and Dallas can’t be those teams to beat Arizona as doing so will just extend or maintain their lead over Colorado.
This is the position the Avalanche have put themselves in. Doing what they need to do while getting help from others. The struggle is real. Trying to navigate through it all is meaningless unless the Avalanche do what was stated earlier. Win. That’s all Colorado can control. They need to win and let whatever else happens that they cannot control just play out.
There are no gimmies on the schedule for the Avalanche. Each games means something to Colorado and you can find a way for them to have meaning for the opponent as well, just like any good NHL season should be. If the Avalanche cannot find a way to come out with some key victories in that ten day Death Stretch of games between 3/19 – 3/29 our attention will quickly shift to the draft lottery outcome. It would be nice to keep the focus on the current season as long as possible before shifting to draft mode.