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Preview: Avs look to clinch a playoff spot against the Sharks

The Avs control their own destiny to win the division, but only if they take care of business in games like this.

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight marks the beginning of the final Colorado Avalanche road trip of the season. After splitting critical divisional contests with Minnesota and Dallas at home last week, the Avs head out west for four games, beginning with two against the San Jose Sharks tonight and Thursday night. Colorado coach Jared Bednar has been fond of saying the Avalanche control their own destiny, and that is true just so long as they don’t slip up against one of the league’s worst teams.

Colorado Avalanche

Bednar wanted to see more urgency out of his team from the start against Dallas after their lackluster opening to the Wild game, and that’s exactly what he got, as the Avs controlled the game against the Stars from start to finish. Colorado will look to build on that momentum, and should they win tonight, that would guarantee them a spot in the playoffs. They can also clinch by getting a point and a Flames loss, or if both the Predators and Flames lose. The bottom line here is the Avs are going to make the playoffs barring some catastrophic and incredibly unlikely developments.

Three months ago, the Avalanche were on the outside of the NHL playoff picture, and since then they have won 26 of 39, good for the second-most wins that span. As disheartening as the Wild loss was, the doom and gloom that followed it was unreasonable, as the Avs are playing as well as any team in the league right now. Some Avs fans expect the team to win every game, which is somewhat understandable given that they have gone 18-6-3 since the All-Star Break, but they cannot win every one.

That said, they have to win this game. The Sharks are one of the three worst teams in the NHL, and only the hapless Ducks and Blue Jackets have given up more goals than San Jose. It sounds a bit strange to call a game against a team with the fewest wins in the NHL a “must-win,” but if the Avs want to keep controlling their own destiny, they cannot lose against teams they frankly have no business losing against.

Projected Lineup:

Evan Rodrigues — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen
Alex Newhook — J.T. Compher — Valeri Nichushkin
Denis Malgin — Lars Eller — Matt Nieto
Andrew Cogliano — Darren Helm — Logan O’Connor

Devon Toews — Cale Makar
Samuel Girard — Bowen Byram
Jack Johnson — Erik Johnson

San Jose Sharks

Even though the Sharks have had a brutally tough season, they proved last week that they are still a dangerous team who can beat anyone on any night should they not bring their A-game. After winning just two out of their previous 19 games, San Jose ripped off a three-game win streak last week against Winnipeg, Vegas, and Arizona.

The Sharks have an incredibly thin roster chock full of young players still finding their footing at the NHL level, but any team with Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, and Erik Karlsson is not one to be trifled with. If the Avs play like they did against Dallas, they should skate past San Jose with ease, but if they sleepwalk through this contest, don’t be surprised if San Jose steals one like they did from two playoff teams last week.

Projected Lineup:

Jacob Peterson – Tomas Hertl – Danil Gushchin
Thomas Bordeleau – Logan Couture – Fabian Zetterlund
Noah Gregor – Nico Sturm – Kevin Labanc
Kyle Criscuolo – Steven Lorentz – Jeffrey Viel

Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Erik Karlsson
Mario Ferraro – Jacob Macdonald
Radim Simek – Henry Thrun


For the past several weeks, Jared Bednar has started Alexandar Georgiev five to eight games in a row before turning to his backup. Georgiev has started the last two games and seems likely to start a third but don’t be surprised if Jonas Johansson gets one of these next two games against the Sharks or the game against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.

San Jose has recently been giving starter James Reimer two starts for every game played by their backup, Kaapo Kahkonen, and given that Kahkonen started their last game (and got lit up by the Avs a month ago in Colorado), James Reimer is the likely starter for San Jose. Still, it really does seem like anyone’s guess right now who will be announced as the starters in net tonight.