Just two points separate the Winnipeg Jets and the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference standings, and both clubs are in a marathon sprint toward the end of the season and a valuable playoff berth.
That makes tonight’s contest between the two squads in Winnipeg even more important. If the Avs can come out victorious, they would jump the idle Vancouver Canucks and Nashville Predators to regain the second wild card. They would also gain ground on the Minnesota Wild, which has lost four straight games. The Wild also holds a wild-card spot and sits just five points ahead of Colorado.
If the Avalanche loses, Winnipeg—which has won two straight games and is 5-4-1 in it’s previous 10 contests—would jump the club in the standings as it has played one fewer game to date.
It’s safe to say there is a lot on the line in tonight’s Central Division collision in frosty Manitoba, and the Avs expect nothing other than a hard-fought, laborious battle from the home team.
“It’s physical here, and they play a strong game all over the ice,” center Carl Soderberg said after morning skate. “I think it’s going to be a good game for us tonight.”
Colorado is coming off of a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets, a game that was decided after a shot caromed off the skate of Cody McLeod and into the Avalanche net with just over a minute remaining in the match.
While the loss stings—every point is valuable at this time of the year—many agree that a lot of things were done right in that contest. The result just doesn’t reflect the effort.
“There’s a lot of things that we can take out of that game that we played against Columbus that were good,” John Mitchell said. “Unfortunately, we just didn’t score enough goals to inevitably win the game, and then a tough break there at the end for them to win that game. It’s tough to come out of a game when you play that well with nothing, but at the same time we have to press on. There’s more games to be played.”
“I thought we did a lot of good things in that game,” head coach Patrick Roy added. “Obviously, we didn’t have a good first shift, and the last shift of the game hurt us a lot. I thought we were quick in our D-zone on them, and I think if we do that a lot we’re going to have our share of success.”
There are times to throw away previous efforts, accepting that perhaps they are a one-off, a deviation from the standard of play that isn’t worth dwelling on. Saturday’s contest isn’t one of those garbage-pail games.
“It’s tough to just throw any game away, especially games where you play well and you don’t produce any points. Those are the real tough ones,” Mitchell said. “I think those games that you do play well, it’s a little tougher to throw those games out because you know that you played well and had an opportunity to at least get one point.”
“It was frustrating. I thought we played pretty well, too,” defenseman Tyson Barrie agreed. “Just needed a better result, but that happens. It’s hockey. We put forward the same effort tonight and do a lot of the same things and I think we’ll be successful.”
Focusing on carrying over the good things into tonight’s tilt is precisely what the team is looking to do. The Avs are 9-3-1 against Central Division squads, and they plan on doing whatever they can to continue that success.
“We played really good defense in Columbus. It’s just unfortunate we gave that goal against at the end of the game. I think that was a good game overall, and if we do [it again] tonight, we’ll get a win here,” Soderberg said. “It’s another division game, and usually they play hard in this building. It’s going to be fun.”
According to Roy, the players are ready for Monday’s matchup.
“The mindset this morning was good, and I’m very confident that our guys will play a good game,” said the coach.
They certainly know that it’s going to take hard work to pull out a victory on the road.
“We just need to play a smart game,” Mitchell said. “Get pucks in, get pucks out, limit their opportunities, obviously, and capitalize on ours. I think that’s what it’s going to come down to; who’s going to outwork who out there tonight.”
Tonight’s lineup in Winnipeg will nearly mirror that of the game on Saturday against Columbus, except for the starting goaltender.
As previously stated, Roy will be using Semyon Varlamov in net. Backup Calvin Pickard has backstopped the previous two contests.
“The only change we’re going to make is Varly will be back in net,” Roy said. “Other than this, it will be the same lineup.”
Alex Tanguay—Nathan MacKinnon—Matt Duchene
Gabriel Landeskog—Carl Soderberg—Blake Comeau
Cody McLeod—John Mitchell—Jack Skille
Andreas Martinsen—Chris Wagner—Jarome Iginla
Francois Beauchemin—Nikita Zadorov
Nick Holden—Tyson Barrie
Chris Bigras—Zach Redmond