It is easy to see how the Colorado Avalanche would be a confident hockey team right now.
Winners of their last three contests and 5-1-0 in their last six, the Avs have found ways to win games and get back into the hunt for a postseason spot. Colorado entered Monday just four points out of a wild card position after erasing an early two-goal deficit to defeat the Dallas Stars 4-3 on Saturday afternoon.
The victory against the division-rival Stars continued to make the case that Avalanche can win in many different fashions. The club has shown it can come back from an early deficit, hold on to an early lead, win in overtime or a shootout, and be on the right side of a blowout.
"The way we have been playing the last few games and finding ways to win them, we're definitely confident," said Avalanche forward Ryan O'Reilly. "With the way the standings are right now, we know the importance of every game."
The Avs will have their work cut out for them in the next week as they head out on a five-game road trip, one of their longest of the season. Four of the five teams Colorado will face will either be in a playoff spot or deep in the hunt for one, beginning this evening against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center.
The Capitals, currently in an Eastern Conference wild card spot, are one of the league's hottest teams right now—if not the hottest. They have picked up at least a point in seven straight games (5-0-2) and have gone 12-1-4 in their last 17 contests.
"This is a tough road trip. A tough start to the road trip, but at the same time you don't want to look too far ahead," said veteran forward Daniel Briere. "We've been feeling good about ourselves lately, but this is critical."
Given the way the Avalanche has been playing recently, a good showing tonight against the red-hot Caps and for the rest of the trip could go a long way in helping the team in its continued push to end the year in a playoff position.
"This is a huge roadie for us," said defenseman Tyson Barrie. "You look at our last couple of games, and we feel that we have played really well. Varly (Semyon Varlamov) has been outstanding, and we're stringing some big wins together so we don't want to have a let down on this road trip."
Still, the club is just focused on the first game. Actually, the Avs are looking to just start with a good first shift and build from there.
"We're kind of taking it period-by-period, shift-by-shift, trying to win each thing," O'Reilly said. "Bringing that in-the-moment mindset and feel has really helped us stay in games, stay there, and stay with it when things aren't going quite the way we want. We found a way I guess to lose as a team, and now we're finding a way to win as a team, which is definitely something that is a lot of fun."
During this recent winning stretch for the Avalanche, one of the main constants has been the play of Varlamov.
The Colorado goalie has started in seven straight games, going 5-2-0 and has only allowed four or more goals once—keeping the Avs in every contest. In the last three games, he stopped 127 shots to set a new franchise record for saves in a three-game span.
Head coach Patrick Roy has stressed recently for his team to decrease the number of shots against Varlamov, but the Avs also recognize that the high number of shots is a bit inflated, as not every one is a high-quality chance.
"They are getting a lot of shots, but as far as grade-A scoring chances go, they have been limited," Barrie said. "Obviously when they do get them, Varly has been there the whole time."
Tonight is the second and final meeting of the season between Colorado and Washington. The Capitals won 3-2 in the first contest after Alex Ovechkin scored the winning goal with 5:56 left in regulation.
The Avs have won their last three games in the nation's capital, a streak the home team would surely want to end.
"There are no easy games," Briere said. "You look around the league, they're tough to find. Sometimes you catch a team on an off night, but that doesn't happen too often. You have to battle through."