That's the signal that the regular season is approaching its close and the playoffs are on the horizon. For teams that are fighting for a spot, losses in March tend feel a bit worse than they did before, while the wins don't necessarily feel like they give clubs as big of a boost in the standings as they would prefer.
The Colorado Avalanche is one of the teams battling for a spot in the postseason, and while Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Nashville Predators is disappointing for the club, the players know there are still five more weeks to decide the 16 clubs that will be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"The margin between winning and losing is so small," said Avs goalie Calvin Pickard, who stopped 35 shots in the loss. "At this time of year, everything is magnified. We'll learn from it and be better next game."
Overall, the matinee at Pepsi Center was fairly even. Colorado killed off all three of Nashville's power plays in the first two periods and was outshooting the Predators 20-16 during even-strength play at the second intermission.
However, a couple ill-timed turnovers cost the Avs two points and prevented them from keeping pace with the Minnesota Wild for the Western Conference's final wild-card position.
"They scored on a couple broken plays there in the third period," Pickard said. "That's the difference."
Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said the team got away from what they were doing well in the first 40 minutes.
"We lost some pucks at the blue lines, and that's extremely important in third periods," Landeskog said. "If we just stuck with the game plan and kept playing the way we were doing the first two periods, we would have been fine. A couple mistakes, and that's what's happened."
Landeskog had given Colorado a 2-1 lead when he scored with 46 seconds left in the second period, but James Neal tied the contest at 1:02 of the third and Mike Fisher tallied the eventual game-winner nine minutes later after the Avs failed to clear the puck in the slot. Nashville added two empty-net goals in the closing minutes to seal the victory.
Closing out games has been difficult for Colorado recently.
"I thought we played really well for 40 minutes, again," said head coach Patrick Roy, who later admitted there is room to improve. "Our third periods need to be better. If you look at our record in the last four games, we're 1-3, and in all those games we were even or ahead going into the third period. We need to be smarter in the third period. We have to learn to play those situations much better."
Landeskog said the players aren't panicking with how they've played in the third period recently. They're aware of what they didn't do in the final stanza and will take the necessary steps fix it come Monday when the Avs continue their four-game homestand against the Arizona Coyotes.
"We know what we have to do. We know what we're doing, and what we're not doing right," Landeskog said. "Talked about it, going to address it, going to watch video. There is no time to sit around and pout here. We just got to get right back on the horse and reload for Monday."
Pickard agreed with his captain that there is no time for the Avs to feel sorry for themselves and that the team's attention is now on the Coyotes.
"The good thing about this league is we get to play Monday and forget about this one and get back to work," he said.
With 15 games left, there is still a lot of hockey to be played for Colorado. The Avs' remaining schedule includes two more games versus Nashville and one more against Minnesota.
A short-term mindset is best in the final weeks of the season. Learn from the last game but focus on the next one and take advantage of the opportunity.
"Right now we need to remain even-keeled and make sure that we remain focused for the next game," Roy said. "You see many funny things happen in a season. We need to win our next two games at home. They're going to be important games for us."
KILLING IT ON THE PK
The Avalanche was perfect on the penalty kill for the fifth straight game, not allowing a goal on any of the Predators' four power plays.
Colorado has now killed off 16 straight and 28 of its last 29 penalties. The last man-advantage goal against came on Feb. 21 at Vancouver when Radim Vrbata's scored late in the second period.
The Predators had several good chances on two power plays in the first period, but Pickard and the Avs defense stood strong to deny all 10 of Nashville's shots in the sequences.
"We've been blocking a ton of shots," Pickard said. "We've been really taking away the cross-seam passes, backdoor feeds and just kind of giving me the shot and letting me see the puck. That's a good recipe for a good kill."
The Avalanche entered the game tied for the 17th best penalty kill in the league, denying 80.8 of opponent's chances.
MILITARY APPRECIATION DAY
The Avalanche honored each branch of the United States armed forces Saturday at its fifth annual Military Appreciation Day at Pepsi Center.
Colorado recognized the men and women that have served, are currently serving and those that will serve in several special ceremonies throughout the game. The first intermission had a performance from Mapleton Public Schools ROTC, while the second break featured an enlistment ceremony. There was an armed forces theme during media timeouts as well, featuring local military personnel.
The Avs players also wore special camouflage jerseys during warmup that will be auctioned off online at auctions.nhl.com/avalanche starting on Monday. Proceeds benefit Kroenke Sports Charities, which supports numerous agencies including various military organizations.
The loss was the Avalanche's first in military appreciation games, dropping its record to 4-1-0 all time.