With seven of the eight playoff spots in the Western Conference locked up, the Colorado Avalanche are a long shot to make their 12th consecutive postseason appearance.
To keep their streak alive, the Avalanche will need a strong finish in their last five games, starting with Saturday's matchup against the playoff-bound Minnesota Wild in Denver.
Colorado (40-30-7) has been one of the hottest teams in the NHL this month, matching a franchise record with 10 wins in March. The run has kept the Avalanche in contention, but they'll need to make up a seven-point deficit to overtake Calgary for the final postseason spot.
"Basically we have to win all our games," forward Milan Hejduk said. "We have five games left and we have to win everything."
Colorado will also need a lot of help from the Flames. If Colorado loses Saturday, a Calgary win later that night would eliminate the Avalanche.
Finishing the season strong will be a challenge for the Avs, whose last five contests are against teams in the West's top eight. Colorado, though, will face the Flames twice more - at Calgary on April 3 and at Denver for the regular season finale April 8.
Since moving to Denver before the 1995-96 season, the Avalanche have made the playoffs 10 straight times. The franchise hasn't missed the postseason since 1993-94, when it was the Quebec Nordiques.
After a 3-0 loss to Vancouver snapped their 12-game point streak Tuesday, the Avalanche got back on track with a 4-3 win over Phoenix on Thursday. Hejduk had a goal and an assist as Colorado built a 4-0 lead in the first two periods.
Colorado survived a shaky third period - and a potential Coyotes tying goal that bounced off the right post with nine seconds remaining - to win for the 11th time in 14 games.
While the Avalanche are scrambling for the playoffs, the Wild have secured their spot, ending a two-year absence from the postseason.
Minnesota (45-25-8) clinched its berth Tuesday, when it gained a point with a 1-0 shootout loss to Calgary and the Avs fell to Vancouver. The Wild are 24-6-5 since Jan. 11, although they've lost their last two - both to the Flames - after a franchise-record nine-game win streak.
Minnesota hasn't dropped three straight since Jan. 4-9.
"Now that we achieved a spot in the playoffs, maybe the guys feel we have a couple of games that we can play easier," coach Jacques Lemaire said. "But it won't work. It just won't work."
Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom allowed two goals on as many shots in the first 80 seconds of a 4-2 loss to Calgary on Thursday. Lemaire responded by replacing Backstrom with Josh Harding, a move the coach hopes will motivate his entire team.
"There are a lot of great teams and if you're not playing your best, you're going to lose," Lemaire told the Wild's official Web site. "(The kick in the pants) is the only positive in this game. Our team is good when they all play together. That's why we've had ups and downs all season."
The Wild hope to get back on track against the surging Avalanche. Minnesota has won six of its last nine against Colorado, including three in a row. The Wild lead the season series 4-1-2 and are 3-1-0 in their last four at the Pepsi Center.
|Mar 31 '07||MIN 1 at COL 2||P. Stastny|
|Mar 11 '07||COL 2 at MIN 3 - OT||B. Burns|
|Feb 22 '07||MIN 4 at COL 3||M. Koivu|
|Feb 01 '07||MIN 5 at COL 3||M. Gaborik|
|Jan 06 '07||COL 2 at MIN 1 - SO||M. Hejduk|
|Nov 18 '06||COL 2 at MIN 1 - SO||J. Sakic|
|Oct 29 '06||MIN 1 at COL 4||T. Arnason|
|Oct 05 '06||COL 2 at MIN 3 - OT||T. White|