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Colorado Can Help Itself In Calgary

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

Members of the Colorado Avalanche have said recently that their focus is on what they can control when it comes to making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That is: not worrying about what other teams are doing in the standings and just concentrating on their own game.

That mindset remains the same this evening, but the Avs can also help themselves in the larger postseason picture in the Western Conference.

Colorado takes on the Calgary Flames for the third and final time this season tonight at Scotiabank Saddledome in what is considered a 'four-point game' for both squads. A regulation win for the Avalanche gets it two points closer to a playoff wild card spot while also not giving the Flames two points in their attempt to make the postseason for the first time since 2009.

"Especially lately, we know each and every game is much like a playoff game for us," said Avs veteran defenseman Brad Stuart. "We probably need some help, but we can't control that. I think we've done a good job as a group of being ready for each game and trying to stay level throughout the games."

While Colorado's three-game winning streak was snapped in a 3-2 overtime loss at Anaheim on Friday night, the Avs still gained a valuable point and are playing their best hockey of the season at the right time. The Avalanche is 6-1-1 in its last eight games and 11-4-1 in its last 16.

"I think you look at our last 20 games, and our record is pretty darn good," said Avs forward Matt Duchene. "We're not where we want to be, but we're pushing and we're going to be ready no matter what. One of these teams, they have to keep winning and we're going to make them keep winning for them to stay ahead of us."

The Flames are one of those clubs in danger of falling out of the Stanley Cup tournament if they don't keep picking up victories.

Calgary is third in the Pacific Division, holding down the last of the three automatic divisional playoff spots with 84 points, but only leads the Los Angeles Kings by two points for that position. If the Kings overtake them, the Flames would fall out of the postseason picture entirely as current wild card teams Minnesota and Winnipeg have more points with 87 and 86, respectively.

"They are fighting. They are in a similar position as us," Duchene said of Calgary. "Vancouver won last night so they are kind of fighting with them to keep in that Pacific Division race and in the wild card race. It's a big game for both teams. We know that we'll see their best, and they are going to see our best."

The Avalanche is 1-0-1 against the Flames this season, falling 4-3 in overtime on Dec. 4 in Calgary while holding on for a 3-2 victory just nine days ago in Denver.

Colorado head coach Patrick Roy expects another close contest against the club's former Northwest Division rival.

"We're going to have to be ready tonight because all year, these guys have been working extremely hard," Roy said of the Flames. "And not only have they been working extremely hard, but they've been buying in to what they have been doing. Tonight is a good test for our team. It's a Game 7, and we have to be atop of our game."

The contest begins at 7 p.m. and will be televised live locally on Altitude. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov will get the start for the Avalanche, while forward Jesse Winchester won't be in the lineup. Winchester has missed the entire season with post-concussion symptoms after suffering a head injury in a preseason game at Calgary on Sept. 30, but he is on the Canadian swing of this season-long five-game road trip and is expected to make his season debut at some point.

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