As the NHL regular-season approaches its conclusion, Colorado will be fighting for its playoff hopes this evening as it takes on the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. An Avs loss or a win tonight by the Minnesota Wild against the San Jose Sharks would eliminate the club from playing in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Avalanche and Wild play at the same time, 6 p.m. MT. Minnesota currently has a five-point cushion for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference, but Colorado does have a game in hand.
Tonight is the fifth and final meeting between the Avalanche and Predators this season. Colorado has won three of the first four contests, including a 4-3 victory on March 28 in Nashville.
In that last game just eight days ago, the Avs raced out to a 3-0 lead in the first period before holding off the charging Preds in the third.
"I expect the same thing we did when we played here (last week)," said head coach Patrick Roy. "It's obvious that we play better when we have the lead. When we're trailing behind, for some reason we have a harder time. Tonight, it's going to be important to have a really good first period, jumping on these guys. The two games we've played here, the two wins we've had, we had great first periods.
"I'm sure on the other side, they're going to say, 'Hey, we were down 2-0 one game. We were down 3-0 the other game.' I expect them to have a good start. We're going to have to respond to that. That will be our challenge tonight."
Colorado has dropped its last two contests since its previous victory in Tennessee. After the team's 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues, Roy said he wanted more from his core players, including Matt Duchene, who scored and celebrated the only goal against the Blues late in the third period. Duchene leads the team with 30 goals and 57 points.
The air has since been cleared between Roy and Duchene, who was called out for his celebration, and the coach expects big things from the Avs' leading scorer.
"I have always been very upfront. I always speak with my heart, and I feel it is important for our fans to know what I think and what is going on. In my opinion, that is what I did in that game as well," Roy said. "I had a good talk with Dutchy, and I think it is clear, Dutchy knows what I expect from him. I think it is time for Dutchy to be a leader on this team, and I think he has been learning. It's part of the process. As a player, I also had my moments. When you want to be a leader on a team, you have to learn. I thought that was a good situation for him to learn from, and I'm sure it's going to make him a better leader."
Colorado doesn't control its own destiny with three contests left on the schedule, and it needs the Wild to keep losing to have a chance to play in the postseason. Minnesota has lost three games in a row since winning six straight.
The Avs know the position they are in and that they can only take care of themselves, and that begins by defeating the Predators.
Colorado closes out its two-game road trip in Dallas on Thursday before hosting the Anaheim Ducks in the season finale on Saturday. At this time of the year, all the games are considered must-wins.
"It's a really important three games for us," said Avs defenseman Nikita Zadorov. "It's a long stretch. Everyone knows we still have a chance. Just need to go there, play our game, play hard, how we did last time here, and just win the game."
And hope to play another day.
Nikita Zadorov will return to the Avalanche lineup tonight after missing just one game with a head injury.
"I recovered really quick," the defenseman said. "The trainers did a great job with me. I'm ready to go, rock and roll."
|Nikita Zadorov |
Zadorov left early in the second period of Friday's contest against the Washington Capitals after he was leveled on what appeared to be a high hit by Tom Wilson. Zadorov laid on the ice in obvious pain afterward and needed help to get back to the Avalanche locker room. No penalty or later supplemental discipline was given to Wilson for the hit.
Head coach Patrick Roy said the following day that the 20-year-old had suffered a concussion.
Despite missing Sunday's outing against the St. Louis Blues, Zadorov has no hard feelings toward the Capitals forward.
"I think I made the same hit against him in junior three years ago," the 6-foot-5, 200-pound Russian said. "People remember it. Give him credit, it was a good hit, it was a clean hit, wasn't to the head."
Zadorov will be paired on defense with Zach Redmond.
Rookie Chris Bigras will be a healthy scratch for the first time since being recalled from the San Antonio Rampage on Jan. 13; he did miss four NHL games earlier this campaign with a head injury.
This is Zadorov's first season with the Avalanche organization after being acquired at last summer's draft from the Buffalo Sabres. The rear guard has spent the majority of the season in the American Hockey League with the Rampage, registering 29 points (10 goals and 19 assists) in 52 games, but he has also played in 19 contests during three stints with the Avs.
Mikkel Boedker—Matt Duchene—Mikhail Grigorenko
Gabriel Landeskog—Carl Soderberg—Blake Comeau
Shawn Matthias—John Mitchell—Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod—Andrew Agozzino—Jack Skille
Francois Beauchemin—Erik Johnson
Nick Holden—Tyson Barrie
Nikita Zadorov—Zach Redmond