The Colorado Avalanche players are very aware of where the team is in the standings: third in the Central Division with 71 points and a 33-14-5 record.
They also know they trail second-place St. Louis by six points and division-leading Chicago by eight points, and that Minnesota is chasing them for the final guaranteed playoff spot in the division.
The Avalanche will look to help itself in the standings and widen its seven-point lead over the Wild tonight in the final meeting of the regular season between the clubs.
"The standings are there in the hallway every day," Avs defenseman Nate Guenin said. "Guys are aware of where we stand. We just want to keep winning, keeping getting those points and keep climbing that ladder and make it tougher for the teams behind us to catch [us]."
In the first four matchups this season between the former Northwest Division foes, Colorado and Minnesota have played tight games, both on the ice and on the final scoreboard. The Avs have already won the season series, posting a 3-0-1 record, but two games were decided in a shootout and two more were one-goal affairs before Colorado pulled away with empty-net tallies at the end.
"Most of our games have been one or two goal games. It's been a really close checking series," Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie said of this season's meetings with the Wild. "We have to stay out of the box [tonight]. They have a good power play, and we have to play them 5-on-5 and try and wear them out. If we get some power play opportunities, we have to capitalize on them."
The Wild has been playing good hockey as of late, going 2-0-1 in its last three games. Minnesota defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks 2-1 last Thursday, fell 3-2 in overtime on Saturday in San Jose, and gave the Anaheim Ducks their second regulation home loss of the season on Tuesday night.
Along with its seven-point lead, the Avalanche also has three-games in hand over the Wid. However, Colorado will play two more games than Minnesota before the Olympic Break begins in 10 days, bringing the games in hand down to one and adding significance to this evening's 'four-point' game.
The Avs could be a comfortable nine points ahead of Minnesota and four points out of second place with a win, but a regulation loss would drop their lead to five points and not help them make up ground on the Blues and the Blackhawks.
"Those division games are always important for us," Avalanche center Paul Stastny said. "The teams ahead of us, we are trying to catch up. The teams behind us, we are trying to widen that gap."
Colorado has also been playing well recently, as the team has won six of its last eight games in a stretch where it plays 10 of 14 contests on the road before the Olympics.
With only two home games remaining in that stretch, Barrie said the team is looking to take advantage of its home ice tonight and Saturday against Buffalo before heading out east for final four games before the break.
And keep climbing and create separation from the Wild in the standings.
"We're looking at [the standings]," Barrie said. "We know what we want to do. We've had a pretty good stretch of games here, and we want to keep it going into the Olympic Break. We want to try and get as many as we can to make it easier for us afterward."
SPOTLIGHT ON: THE LINE OF LANDESKOG—STASTNY—TANGUAY
Playing as one of head coach Patrick Roy's top scoring lines for most of the first month of the season, Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Alex Tanguay had success together in the first 13 games.
The trio scored 12 goals and helped Colorado to a 12-1 record before Tanguay injured his knee Nov. 2 against Montreal and missed nearly 12 weeks.
Tanguay returned to action last Friday in Florida and the line was reunited and has had success. In the two games back together—Tanguay had a scheduled game off last Saturday in Tampa Bay—the line has helped the Avs to a 2-0 record and has scored three goals, including Tanguay's winner on Monday in Dallas.
"It's been good," Stastny said of the line. "We've had it since day 1, and then Tanguay got hurt, but we kept battling along. Landy and I have had a lot of different linemates, but we knew once he got healthy he would be back with us. I think [Tanguay] is still getting comfortable.
The addition of Tanguay to the line should add to the scoring power of the group as Stastny leads all Avs skaters with 13 points (four goals and nine assists) this month and Landeskog has 17 points (five goals and 12 assists) in his last 17 games.
MORE MORNING NOTES
• Semyon Varlamov will get the start in net for Colorado. He is tied for the third in the NHL with 26 wins and can set a new career high tonight with a victory. He is 9-1-1 this month, tying a franchise record for wins in January.
• PA Parenteau will be a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game. With a healthy group of forwards, Roy said he didn't want to make changes to a winning lineup. Parenteau missed three weeks with a knee injury before returning Jan. 21 against Toronto. He had the night off on Monday in order to not overwork the knee early in his return.
• Matt Duchene needs one goal to reach 100 for his career. He would become the 20th player in franchise history and ninth in Avalanche history (since 1995-96) to reach the century mark in goals. He would also become the second player from the 2009 draft class to score 100 goals (John Tavares).
• Duchene has 23 points (5g/18a) in his last 23 games.
• Ryan O'Reilly has already set a career high with 19 goals, tops on the squad. Ryan has eight points (5g/3a) in his last eight games. He has 99 career assists, one shy of 100.
• Maxime Talbot has five assists in his last five games (0g/5a).
• Cody McLeod ranks sixth in franchise history in career penalty minutes (943). He needs five PIM to tie Adam Foote (948) for the most in Avalanche history (since the franchise relocated in 1995).