– Despite a 2 1/2 week skid that included a four-game losing streak, the Colorado Avalanche
have moved into position to clinch a Western Conference playoff berth in this the final week of the NHL regular season.
But the Avalanche will have to do it without left wing Peter Mueller
, who suffered a concussion in Sunday's 5-4 win over the San Jose Sharks
and will be sidelined indefinitely, perhaps for the team's final four games.
"We'll miss him," linemate Milan Hejduk
told NHL.com after practice Monday. "He's been playing really good for us and we'll have to do without him for a while, I guess. This is the important part of the season and we have to win some games to get in (the playoffs).
"He's been scoring big goals for us and he's been big on the power play. It's unfortunate."
Mueller was wobbly and needed assistance getting off the ice with 2:42 remaining in the third period after taking a hit from Sharks defenseman Rob Blake
. It appeared to be a clean hit and no penalty was called, but Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said Tuesday that Mueller was in "a vulnerable" position when he was near the boards behind the Sharks net.
"The League will review all these kinds of incidents," Sacco said. "I thought he was in a vulnerable spot."
Mueller has been one of the Avalanche's most productive players since his March 3 acquisition, along with Kevin Porter
, from Phoenix in exchange for Wojtek Wolski
. Mueller had 9 goals and 11 assists in 15 games while playing on a line with Matt Duchene
Sacco said he hadn't yet decided who would replace Mueller on the line for Tuesday night's game in Vancouver. Mueller didn't accompany the Avalanche on its two-game trip, which concludes Wednesday in Edmonton.
The Avalanche won their first game against Vancouver in October, but have lost four in a row to the Canucks while being outscored 22-8.
"No question, Peter's been an important player for us, a very useful player for us since the trade," Sacco said. "But, like we've done all year long, we've got to rally around it. Other people have to raise their level and step up into an opportunity that they didn't have before, take advantage of an opportunity and seize the moment.
"We've had guys do that all year. We've faced injuries and adversity throughout the course of the season."
Sunday's win against the Sharks broke a four-game losing streak and ended a 1-6-1 slide that started March 17 with a 3-2 loss to the Calgary Flames
Thanks to the Flames' 4-1 loss in Chicago Sunday, the Avalanche have regained a two-point lead over the Flames (91-89) for the eighth and final playoff position. Colorado also has two more wins (42-40) and has four games left while Calgary has three.
""No question, Peter's been an important player for us, a very useful player for us since the trade. But, like we've done all year long, we've got to rally around it. Other people have to raise their level and step up into an opportunity that they didn't have before, take advantage of an opportunity and seize the moment."
-- Avs' coach Joe Sacco
The Avalanche's magic number to secure a trip to the postseason is four points. The Avalanche would clinch Tuesday with a win against the Canucks if the Flames lose in regulation at home to the Sharks.
"Our focus will be on the game (Tuesday) night and nothing else," Sacco said. "If it happens, it would be great, but we have to focus on the process, not the big picture."
Sacco acknowledged that Sunday's win gave Avalanche players a much-needed emotional boost.
"There's probably a little bit of weight that comes off your shoulders," he said. "At the same time, we've tried to remain on an even keel throughout the whole process. All season long teams go through these kinds of sequences, when things don't happen to be going great for you."
Duchene said he was so pumped after the win – John-Michael Liles
scored on a deflection with 2:01 left in overtime – that he had a hard time getting to sleep.
"I was pretty fired up," he said. "I'm sure a lot of other guys were like that, too. It's a huge relief."
Losing Mueller, Duchene said, is a huge blow.
"It's a big loss for us," he said. "He's been scoring goals and playing well, so it's going to be tough. It's obviously not great news, but we still have a job to do and hopefully we'll be able to do it.
"I think we played some good games that we lost and we had some games where we didn't play well. But finally getting that win was huge. It's a huge morale boost."
Not surprisingly, Craig Anderson
will start in goal again for the Avalanche. He's played in a franchise record 69 games and has started 32 of the past 33 games.
"We need to go in there and play a good game," Anderson said. "We have to play good going into the stretch here. You want to play your best hockey at the end of the year and we have four games to shore up things. We just have to worry about our game. Our destiny is in our hands. We get to control what our fate is going to be."