GLENDALE, Ariz.—With four days in between games, the only thing the Colorado Avalanche could do is watch as other teams shuffled up and down the standings in the Western Conference playoff race.
The Avs will finally have their own say on the matter on Thursday night when they return to action against the Arizona Coyotes.
“It seems like every night someone is winning that is hurting us, but that’s the way it goes,” said Colorado forward Ryan O’Reilly of the race for the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. “We have to control what we can control, and that’s just our games and the points we can get.”
That one-game-at-a-time approach has been preached by head coach Patrick Roy and echoed by the players throughout the year, but this time—maybe more than ever—it seems to have more importance.
Colorado is set to begin a string of five straight road games—tied for the longest such stretch during the season—in what is a key part of the year for the club. A good showing in these upcoming contests keeps the Avs in the hunt to be playing after the regular season ends on April 11.
“It’s such a tight race, and all of these points are tough to get,” O’Reilly said. “For us starting tomorrow, having a big game here, play well, kind of gets momentum from that, and hopefully it carries over on the trip.”
After the Coyotes, the Avalanche plays in Anaheim on Friday for the second half of the back-to-back set before briefly returning home in preparation for a three-game Western Canadian trip next week.
The Avs were just five points out of a playoff spot after their 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Saturday night, but that has since been stretched to seven points as other teams have kept playing and winning over the last few days. Still, Colorado is playing its best hockey of the season, having won five of its last six contests and 10 of its last 13.
While having four days between games comes at an inopportune time for the team in regards to the placement in the standings and the momentum the club has gained, the time off late in the season was also much needed.
“It was nice to be able to recharge and take a step back,” said defenseman Tyson Barrie. “We have our work cut out for us here, and we’re excited for this game.”
With 69 games completed in the grueling NHL season, O’Reilly said any extra time to let injuries heal is key but it’s also important for the team not to forget what it is chasing.
“A lot of bumps and bruises, and a lot injuries right now,” O’Reilly said. “Any rest we can get, we’ll benefit from it. It’s nice to have that, but we have to maintain our focus and make sure we’re ready for tomorrow.”
The Avs have defeated the Coyotes in each of the clubs’ two previous meetings this season, winning 4-3 in overtime on Nov. 25 in Arizona and 5-2 in Denver on Feb. 16.
Arizona sits tied for last in the Western Conference, but the Coyotes haven’t quit on the season. They have been playing their opponents tight lately as three of their last four games have been decided by one goal.
“I think they have a lot of pride in that room, and they’re not going to pack it in,” Barrie said. “They are going to play us hard, and we’re going to look to have a good start against them.”
After having Tuesday off, the Avs returned to the practice ice Wednesday for an energetic and spirited skate at Gila River Arena that lasted about 40 minutes. The team traveled to Arizona a few days early to get that road mindset and bring the focus back to hockey as it enters the homestretch of the season.
“It’s such a tough playoff race that I think everyone feels that we know we have to be intense, and they can feel the pressure of it right now,” O’Reilly said. “Everyone is focused.”