The Avalanche have lost four games in a row and been outscored 32-19 while dropping seven of their past eight heading into Sunday night’s meeting with the Western Conference-leading San Jose Sharks at the Pepsi Center.
That nine-point lead the Avalanche had on the Calgary Flames on March 17 in the race for a playoff spot has become a distant memory. The teams are tied now with 89 points each following the Flames’ 2-1 win Friday, and they are skating in opposite directions.
Colorado still holds the eighth and final postseason berth because it has more wins (41-40) and has played one fewer game than Calgary. The Avalanche have five games left and the Flames have four.
But a loss to the Sharks coupled with a Calgary win in Chicago on Sunday afternoon would drop the Avalanche among the also-rans for the first time this season.
"We know we have to win if we want to get in," said left wing T.J. Galiardi, who scored the Avalanche’s lone goal Friday. "We can’t expect Calgary to lose because they’re hot right now."
Despite the game in hand, the schedule isn’t all that favorable. After Sunday’s date with the Sharks, the Avalanche play back-to-back road games Tuesday and Wednesday against Vancouver and Edmonton, respectively. The Oilers have the worst record in the NHL, but the Avalanche have lost to them twice and gone 4-9-2 in the second game when playing on consecutive nights.
The Avalanche will close out the regular season at home, meeting Chicago on Friday and Los Angeles on April 11.
"We have to keep the negative out of the room, stay positive and keep focusing on what we did to be successful all year," captain Adam Foote said. "We have to be positive and talk about the things we’re doing well. You just can’t let what’s happening now drain a young team. We can’t let the negative drain us. We have to believe in here and stay positive."
There were a couple of encouraging signs Friday: goalie Craig Anderson permitted fewer than three goals for the first time in nine starts by turning aside 25 of 27 shots, and center Stephane Yelle returned from a leg injury to help the Avalanche kill all three of their penalties after they were scorched for 11 power-play goals in 24 short-handed situations over the previous eight games.
"We're still in eighth," Anderson said. "The ball's still in our court. But we've got to win our games, that's the bottom line."
This late-season swoon is conjuring painful memories from a year ago, when the Avalanche lost 12 of their final 13 games and finished in the conference basement.
"This time of the season you can’t sulk," right wing Chris Stewart said. "You just have to get back to the drawing board. The good thing is we still have a game in hand, so we still control our own fate."
Yet despite the importance of Friday’s showdown before a sellout crowd -- the Avalanche’s fifth of the season -- Colorado didn’t play with enough passion until after Galiardi sliced Calgary’s lead in half at 7:32 of the third period.
"It’s something to build off, the third period," Galiardi said. "We were aggressive, and that’s our game. We were doing it all year up until recently. When we start getting scared to lose, that’s when we’ve gotten into trouble and that’s why our record’s been what it has recently."
The Avalanche had five rookies in the lineup, but coach Joe Sacco said youth isn’t to blame for the team’s problems.
"At this point the guys have gotten some experience," he said. "We’ve worked hard all year long to be in this position and right now it’s just a matter of playing our game for a full 60 minutes. We can’t do it for 30 minutes. It has to be the full 60 minutes, especially at this time of the year."
Notes: The Avalanche announced the signings of Boston University defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen to entry-level contracts. Both players were assigned to the Lake Erie Monsters in the American Hockey League.
Shattenkirk, 21, was the Avalanche’s first-round pick (No. 14) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He was Boston University’s captain as a junior this year and had seven goals and 22 assists in 38 games.
Cohen, 20, was the Avalanche’s second-round selection (No. 45) in 2007. He was the Terriers’ top-scoring defenseman this year as a junior with 14 goals and 16 assists in 36 games.