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Playoff Push Continues vs. Red-Hot Ducks

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

If the Colorado Avalanche wants to make the playoffs, the team will definitely have to work for it and fight for every available point.

There are no easy games in the month of March, and that will certainly be the case this evening when the Avs host the hottest team in the league in the Anaheim Ducks. Anaheim is 12-0-2 in its last 14 contests and just had an 11-game winning streak snapped on Monday against the Washington Capitals, the top team in the NHL.

The Ducks own the league's best record since the Holiday Break in December, going 25-4-3 in their last 32 games. It's been a big turnaround for a club that began the season with one victory in the first month of the season.

"It's pretty impressive what they have been doing," said Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy. "They had a so-so start, and they have been playing some good hockey. I mean you could ask anybody, that is the team they expected all year. Sometimes you have to go through adversity to become a better team."

Anaheim isn't the only squad riding a wave of confidence in tonight's 8 p.m. game at Pepsi Center. The Avalanche also feels it has played some good hockey as of late.

Despite a 3-3 mark in its last six outings, Colorado had the lead or was tied entering the third period in each of the three defeats and put together a solid final stanza in a 3-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Monday night.

"Confidence is big. If you look at our losses, they are all pretty much one-goal games until the end when we pull the goalie and we give up a couple goals in the empty net," said defenseman Francois Beauchemin. "But every game has been really close. We've been playing some really good hockey for two, three weeks. We had a little bit of a slump after the All-Star break, but now we've been solid, playing good teams, and it seems like little mistakes that we make are costing us goals and costing us games. If we limit those, we'll be OK."

The Coyotes had their fair share of shots and scoring chances throughout the 60 minutes, but the Avs did a good job of forcing outside shots and making smart plays when leaving the defensive zone.

"I think we were much better with how we managed our game, especially coming out of our own end," said defenseman Erik Johnson. "Just as a group, I think if we didn't have the play, we flipped it out and put pressure on them in the neutral zone. That made a big difference just because we weren't chasing the puck in the zone. If we didn't have the play, we weren't trying to force it."

Both the Avalanche and Ducks are in a fight for playoff positioning, but the Avs might need two points a little more tonight. Anaheim has all but secured a spot and is battling for a division title, while Colorado is up against Minnesota for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

The Avalanche and Wild are tied at 72 points, but Minnesota has played one fewer game and doesn't play again until tomorrow night at home versus the Edmonton Oilers.

Getting as many points now is important for the Avs with the Wild set to have games in hand over the next two weeks.

"We know Minny hasn't played for a few days," Johnson said. "We think this is a time where we can put a dent in the standings, maybe put some space between us and them. Disappointing how the Nashville game unfolded, but as a group we played really well against Arizona.

"Anaheim is fighting for points just as much as we are. Even though they are in a playoff spot, they want to win their division. I think if we can win this game and coming off the nice win against Arizona, it would be a really good win for us going on the road."

With 14 games left in the regular season, Roy said he expects the Avalanche's core players to take the next step and help the club make the postseason.

"Whatever it takes to make the playoffs," Roy said on how much those players need to step up.

Finding a way to get a victory against a sizzling opponent would go a long way in helping Colorado reach that goal.

GAME-TIME DECISION FOR REDMOND

Defenseman Zach Redmond will take the team's warmup prior to puck drop before a verdict is made on if he will dress for tonight's game.

Redmond suffered a lower-body injury on Monday versus Arizona, his first game back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch for 13 straight contests. He missed Tuesday's practice but was on the ice for today's morning skate.

"We'll see after warmup if he feels better," Roy said. "If he's capable of playing tonight, he'll play."

If Redmond can't, then Andrew Bodnarchuk will take his place.

Blake Comeau, who also missed Tuesday's practice with a minor back injury, was out on the ice for morning skate, and Roy confirmed that the forward would play against the Ducks.

NANTEL SIGNED

Nantel

The Avalanche signed forward Julien Nantel of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies to a three-year entry-level contract.

Nantel is in his third full season with the Huskies, having registered 60 goals and 78 assists in 184 career Quebec Major Junior Hockey League games. He has 42 points (19 goals and 23 assists) in 48 games this season and has helped Rouyn-Noranda to first place in the QMJJHL.

The Laval, Quebec, native was selected 204th overall by Colorado in the seventh round of the 2014 NHL Draft. He is the first player signed by the Avs from that year's draft class.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Mikkel Boedker—Nathan MacKinnon—Blake Comeau
Mikhail Grigorenko—Matt Duchene—Jarome Iginla
Shawn Matthias—Carl Soderberg—Gabriel Landeskog
Cody McLeod—John Mitchell—Jack Skille

Francois Beauchemin—Erik Johnson
Nick Holden—Tyson Barrie
Eric Gelinas—Zach Redmond

Semyon Varlamov
Calvin Pickard

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