The Colorado Avalanche came within 15 minutes of a clean sweep last week, blowing a two game lead in the third period against the San Jose Sharks. They won the other two games of the week, including an impressive victory over the slumping Washington Capitals at home on Friday evening.
With over a third of the season completed, the Avalanche have a magic number to remain in playoff contention:
The Avalanche have 49 regular season games remaining and need to acquire at least 59 points to have a chance at a playoff berth. Currently sitting in 12th place within the Western Conference, Colorado has to leapfrog at least four teams for a chance at the postseason. Here's a preview of the three games on this week's schedule; all three games will take place at Pepsi Center.
Monday, December 19 vs Philadelphia Flyers -- The Flyers currently lead the Eastern Conference and are in the midst of a 7-1 month of December. They've received some bad news this past week, however, as captain Chris Pronger will reportedly miss the remainder of the season with a concussion. Leading scorer Claude Giroux is also out indefinitely with concussion symptoms. Prized free agent goalie Ilya Bryzgalov boasts an impressive 14-6-2 record, but with middling peripherals (2.92 GAA, .896 SV%). The Flyers are very good, but they come into Denver as a wounded squad.
Wednesday, December 21 vs St. Louis Blues -- The Blues make their second visit to Pepsi Center this month after a dramatic December 2 shootout loss. St. Louis has earned 10 of 14 points this month, in large to their spectacular goaltending tandem. Brian Elliott still leads the NHL in both Goals Against Average (1.43 GAA) and Save Percentage (.943 SV%), but goalie Jaroslav Halak has been very good of late as well (.938 SV% in his past four games).
Friday, December 23 vs Tampa Bay Lightning -- The Lightning took the champion Boston Bruins to a Game 7 last year in the Conference Finals, and were expected to be a force again this season. That has not been the case. They find themselves near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and quite a few unanswered questions. Aside from Steven Stamkos, the offense has been mostly invisible. 42 year old goalie Dwayne Roloson has been awful (3.67 GAA, career worst .882 SV%), and Mathieu Garon has not been much better in net (2.75 GAA, .905 SV%). The Lightning were a Cinderella team last season; this year, they may have turned back into a pumpkin.
This is a difficult, but ultimately winnable stretch for Colorado. A minimum of four points in the standings this weekend is necessary, but a clean sweep should be the goal to get back into the thick of the playoff hunt.
For more coverage, visit our Avalanche blog Mile High Hockey.