The push to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs is in high gear with less than a month left in the regular season. The stakes have been raised and the games are of greater magnitude.
Here are the CFP Keys to Success for teams either holding on to precious playoff positions or trying to improve its place in the standings:
The Colorado Avalanche must continue their fight to make the playoffs without their top two scorers, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, because of knee injuries. They will miss at least the next two of the Avalanche's final nine games including a showdown against the Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center on Saturday (3 p.m. ET; FS-N, ALT, NHL.TV).
"It's not going to change anything for us. Obviously it's a tough break but every team goes through their injuries," Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog told the Denver Post. "We know we have a deep enough team to win hockey games. It will be fun. It's a good test for us and it's the best time of year."
The Wild's 2-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday dropped the Avalanche one point behind the Wild for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference, though the Avalanche have one game in hand.
Before they get their shot at the Wild, the Avalanche will have to go through the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; CSN-PH, ALT, NHL.TV). The Flyers are also in a battle to reach the playoffs with a tenuous hold on the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
The Avalanche's road to the postseason may be challenging, but they are 2-0-0 without Duchene and 1-0-0 without MacKinnon. One key to their success is getting rookie forward Mikko Rantanen going. Rantanen, the 10th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, has no points in seven games but could be looked upon to pick up some of the offensive slack.
Goaltending also has been a strength for the Avalanche, who have won three straight games. Semyon Varlamov will start against the Flyers on Thursday and the big one against the Wild on Saturday.
"We've been playing some smart hockey," coach Patrick Roy told the Avalanche website. "We've been working hard on our puck possession and making sure that we hold onto the puck more. Defensively, our tracking is good. I think the guys are playing some good hockey."
Video: LAK@MIN: Dubnyk sprawls for two nice saves
THIEF IN THE NIGHT
Goalie Devan Dubnyk is flashing the elite form that helped rescue the Wild last season during a most opportune time. Dubnyk had 38 saves and stole a victory against the Kings on Tuesday that pushed the Wild back into playoff position in the Western Conference. Look for the Wild to ride Dubnyk down the stretch again. His eight wins since Feb. 28 (8-1-1, 2.18 goals-against average, .922 save percentage) are first in the NHL.
Don't expect the Wild to look ahead to Saturday at the Avalanche. They face a Calgary Flames team hoping to play spoiler at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; SNW, FS-N, NHL.TV).
"Every game, we have to play desperate," Wild defenseman Ryan Suter told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "We need points. We know Colorado is a good team and we just have to take care of our own business."
Winners of three straight, the Wild may get a boost with the return of forward Jason Pominville, who has missed the past seven games because of a lower-body injury. Pominville skated with the Wild on Tuesday for the first time since sustaining the injury March 6. He has 12 points in his past 11 games.
Video: WSH@PIT: Crosby feeds Kunitz for a one-timer
MARCH OF THE PENGUINS
The Pittsburgh Penguins are ascending the Eastern Conference standings thanks to a six-game winning streak that has included victories against the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals by a combined score of 10-3 while allowing less than 20 shots in each game.
Key to the surge is -- who else? -- Sidney Crosby. The League's third-leading scorer and reigning First Star of the Week is on a season-high 12-game point streak (6-14-20), tied for the third longest this season. The Penguins captain had an 11-game run from Jan. 12-Feb. 8, making him the only player in the League this season with multiple double-digit streaks. Since Mike Sullivan took over as Penguins coach Dec. 12, Crosby's 57 points in 43 games (25 goals, 32 assists) is best in the NHL.
After a three-day break, Pittsburgh plays the New Jersey Devils on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, ROOT, NHL.TV).
"The rest is important for our guys. We've played a lot of hockey over the last little while," Sullivan told the Penguins website. "But from a mindset standpoint, we can't exhale. We've got to make sure that we stay hungry. We recognize how we're playing, the way we're playing and the details of how we're playing in order to get the results that we've enjoyed in the last couple of weeks."