With nine contests remaining in the season, the Colorado Avalanche wants to take advantage of the situation it is in as it pushes for the playoffs.
Each game is becoming increasingly more meaningful and seemingly has more significance than the last, and that is true against tonight as the Avalanche hosts the Los Angeles Kings at Pepsi Center in the next biggest game of the campaign.
"That's probably the easiest thing, coming to the rink and realizing the task at hand, I think we have been good at that for the last couple of months," said defenseman Tyson Barrie. "We realize how big these games are and we are a young team, but we get the gravity of the situation we are in and we have done a good job to put ourselves where we are and we want to capitalize on it."
Both teams are fighting for playoff positions and the outcome of this evening's game could change where the clubs sit in the postseason picture. The Avalanche currently holds the first wild-card spot with 88 points, one more than the Kings.
Colorado last played Los Angeles on Dec. 21 and fell 2-1 in overtime at Staples Center. After tonight, the clubs will face each other in L.A. again in the last week of the season on April 2.
"Deep team, great special teams, a lot of big body guys up front especially that can protect the puck well and they are physical offensively, and sometimes that's been a challenge with us," Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said of the Kings. "It's that time of the year. They got a lot of guys that have won before, their core has been there and done that. They are ramping up their game here now. With [Jeff] Carter back in the lineup, there are two centermen there that you really have to worry about, two lines that you really have to worry about.
"There are lot of challenges to the Kings. I think our focus mainly in our preparation is making sure our game is in order and that we are doing the right things that have made us successful through the course of the season, and a lot of those would be using our quickness and skating to check and putting pressure on the puck all over the ice."
Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar on facing the Kings
The Avs and the Kings both have outstanding penalty-kill units, as Colorado owns the best home PK in the NHL with a 93-percent success rate and L.A. has the best overall kill, being effective 84.4 percent of the time.
With the last full month of the regular season underway, the Avalanche is 6-1-3 and the Kings have a 5-3-2 record so far in March.
"I mean it's kind of like our playoffs before the playoffs, I think everyone is looking forward to playing some meaningful hockey again," said Avs veteran Erik Johnson. "It's nice to come back after missing a period of time and being in a good position. I am really excited, it's so much fun to play hockey this time of year, especially in the Pepsi Center. The fans have been awesome so it's been fun, looking forward to it."
Video: Previewing Avalanche vs. Kings
The Avs are 25-9-2 on home ice this season, tied for the fifth-most home victories in franchise history and are 15-2-1 in their last 18 games at Pepsi Center.
However, they are facing a team that has been solid on the road. Los Angeles is tied for the third-most road wins in the NHL with 21 and have earned 46 points as the visiting team, also tied for the third most in the league.
"We know we are in a fight. We are well aware that this is going to be a fight to the finish and the most important hockey is still to come," said Bednar. "We are playing playoff hockey right now, we talked about it with our group a little bit. There are a lot of similarities that you have right now entering games that you have during the playoffs and you know making sure that you aren't getting too high or too low for that matter, and you are responding after losses and keep your game in order after wins.
"I think our leadership group in our locker room and our players have done a real nice job of that, and they know the importance of it. They are hungry to get in, so hopefully we can keep playing some good hockey here to the end of the year."
BERNIER TO BACKUP VARLY
For the 19th straight game, Semyon Varlamov will play be between the pipes for Colorado.
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier left the Avs' contest against the Arizona Coyotes with a head injury on March 10 but has recovered and will backup Varlamov against the Kings.
"It's a really tough injury because you just don't know," said Bernier. "Some days you feel great, some days you don't. Your everyday life stuff, you feel pretty good and then you start exercising and that's when you kind of have that setback. But that's part of hockey. Obviously, you don't want to see guys going down like this, but you just got to be patient and wait it out."
Bernier has played in 31 contests for Colorado this season and owns an 18-11-2 record with a 2.81 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage.
"Varly has been playing unbelievable since I got out," he said. "I think for us, for me and Varly, just to win and get in the playoffs and give a chance to our team to win every night [is what matters]. It doesn't matter how many games I will play or he is going to play, I think that's our goal as a goalie."
Video: Jonathan Bernier back healthy