CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- For the Colorado Avalanche, their showdown with the Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center on Saturday (3 p.m. ET; FS-N, ALT, NHL.TV) will feel like a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Colorado (38-32-4) trails Minnesota (36-28-11) by three points in what has become a two-team race for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference.
"I think we have to approach it as a must-win situation," Avalanche defenseman Francois Beauchemin said Friday. "We have eight games left, we know where we're at, it's a must-win situation. We've lost a couple games to these guys already, and this is a big one."
The Avalanche have played one fewer game than the Wild and own a one-game lead (34-33) in regulation and overtime wins, the first tiebreaker if it comes to that, but a loss Saturday would be a damaging blow.
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"These are exciting games to play," Beauchemin said. "Everybody's watching us and saying we're in a tough situation, but we have to take it as a positive thing and just get excited and get motivated by it. We control our own destiny. We win and we're right back in it. We all know that if we lose we put ourselves in a tough situation, but it's in our hands right now."
The Avalanche have lost three of four games against the Wild this season and nine of the past 11. They defeated the Wild 2-1 in overtime on Dec. 7 after squandering a late 1-0 lead.
Colorado has lost eight times this season after taking a lead into the third period, six in regulation. The trouble began opening night against Minnesota, of all teams, when the Avalanche turned a 4-1 third-period lead into a stinging 5-4 defeat.
"The good thing is we have a chance to get back to [being] one point behind them and having one game in hand," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "That's what we should have in mind, and that's what our focus should be about how we want to respond. We had a meeting [Friday] morning talking about not looking at the big picture but more looking short-term and making sure we're ready for the start of the game.
"I said to the guys, 'I'm very happy with the way we've been playing for a long period of time now.' I really feel that we've been playing some solid hockey. Yes, we've blown some leads, but we put ourselves in that position. Is it a lack of maturity, a lack of experience? I think this team is learning a lot right now. We're progressing a lot as a team. It sounds very positive from me talking like this, but I think we can build around that."
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The Avalanche have had the lead or been tied in their past five defeats, a trend that continued Thursday in a 4-2 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers, who scored two late third-period goals 19 seconds apart and added an empty-net goal.
"The little bit of a hole that we can have in our games we need to eliminate and be better at," Roy said. "[Thursday] night, I thought we had great moments. There were maybe four or five shifts in the second and the third (periods) where we didn't play as well, and all of a sudden the puck is in the back of our net."
The Avalanche will need to be aware of Wild forward Zach Parise whenever he's on the ice. He had four goals -- a hat trick opening night -- and three assists against them in the first four games, and he had another hat trick Thursday in Minnesota's 6-2 win against the Calgary Flames.
"I hope he's got nothing left," Beauchemin said. "He's one of the best players in the League and we always have to pay special attention to those guys, try to be physical, make sure you're on the right side of the puck and not give him too much time and space because he's got good speed and a good shot."
The Avalanche are without their two leading scorers, centers Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon. Each is out with a knee injury, so others will need to pick up the offensive slack.
"We know that we have a deep enough team, a good enough team to win," captain Gabriel Landeskog said. "It's a matter of focusing on what we have, focusing on what we have in the lineup. Different guys get more ice time, get a chance on the power play. The guys that do get a chance, it's a good opportunity for them to spark the team."