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Preview: Avalanche look to close Central gap in important matchup against Dallas Stars

Dallas holds a six-point gap over Colorado entering today.

Dallas Stars v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

We’ve entered the point of the season where every game is an important game and every point matters. The Colorado Avalanche enter the Lone Star State to face the Dallas Stars in a Saturday matinee that holds major implications on the race for the top of the Central Division, and even the Western Conference as a whole. With approximately 6 weeks to go in the NHL season, the race for the top of the West is heating up, and the Avalanche are looking to pounce on the current conference leaders. With at least 3 games in hand over every other team currently in a playoff spot in the West, the Avalanche have the opportunity to crank up the heat on the conference leaders with a win today, but a 4-point swing in the wrong direction would make life significantly harder.

Colorado Avalanche

After having their six-game win streak snapped in a hectic 7-5 loss to the New Jersey Devils Wednesday, the Avs come into today’s matchup with more of the same press. Just as defenseman Cale Makar is slated to re-enter the lineup, the Avs lose another roster player, as Josh Manson re-aggravated his previous lower-body injury late in Wednesday night’s tilt and will “miss some time” according to Head Coach Jared Bednar.

With Erik Johnson already on the shelf for likely the remainder of the regular season, another extended absence to Josh Manson will be cause for concern for an Avs team that can no longer make meaningful adds to the roster depth with the trade deadline past. Forward Valeri Nichushkin (who is celebrating his 28th birthday today), is questionable to play as he battles an illness. He missed practice yesterday due to the matter, and it’s uncertain if he traveled with the team for this one-game trip.

Keith Kinkaid figures to put on the Burgundy A for the first time, as he was re-called to join the Avs at practice yesterday, still in his Bruins goalie gear. He’s expected to back up Alexandar Georgiev, who’s coming off four days' rest after starting a series of important games in the last two weeks.

Projected Lines:

Artturi Lehkonen (62) - Nathan MacKinnon (29) - Valeri Nichushkin (13)
Alex Newhook (18) - J.T. Compher (37) - Mikko Rantanen (96)
Matt Nieto (83) - Lars Eller (20) - Evan Rodrigues (9)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Denis Malgin (81) - Logan O’Connor (25)

Devon Toews (7) - Cale Makar (8)
Bowen Byram (4) - Samuel Girard (49)
Brad Hunt (17) - Jack Johnson (3)

Alexandar Georgiev (40)
Keith Kinkaid (71)

Dallas Stars

The Stars enter this matchup with another new piece on board for the playoff push, as Center Max Domi is expected to make his Stars debut. Domi joins winger Evgenii Dadonov as the major acquisitions who will look to help Dallas maintain pace in the West. The Stars have been in a bit of a skid as of late. Despite rattling off two wins in a back-to-back set against the Coyotes and Blackhawks earlier this week, they’re only 4-3-3 in their last 10 games. That pace isn’t going to hold up with an Avs team that has been surging for the better part of six weeks now. Jake Oettinger will get the nod in net.

Projected Lines:

Jason Robertson (21) - Roope Hintz (24) - Joe Pavelski (16)
Jamie Benn (14) - Wyatt Johnston (53) - Evgenii Dadonov (63)
Mason Marchment (27) - Max Domi - (18) - Tyler Seguin (91)
Fredrik Olofsson (42) - Radek Faksa (12) - Ty Dellandrea (10)

Miro Heiskanen (4) - Colin Miller (6)
Ryan Suter (20) - Nils Lundkvist (5)
Esa Lindell (23) - Jani Hakanpaa (2)

Jake Oettinger (30)
Matthew Murray (32)

Standings Check

With the Western Conference race heating up, I feel like it’s time to start monitoring the standings more closely. Six of the West’s playoff teams are in action today, which means today’s standings could look drastically different tomorrow.

The Western Conference race is the theme of Hockey Night In Canada this evening, with both games featuring Western Conference opponents fighting for seeding. Up first, the Winnipeg Jets host the Edmonton Oilers in a battle of the current wild card teams. This is the second game of a home-and-home set between the two teams, with the Oilers taking care of business 6-3 in Edmonton last night.

After that, the Minnesota Wild are up North for a clash with the Calgary Flames. The Wild currently sit in between the Avs and Stars as the 2nd place team in the Central Division, while the Flames are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive with every game. The Los Angeles Kings host the St. Louis Blues as the final game of the day, where a win would tie the Vegas Golden Knights at the top of the Western Conference at 80 points.