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Avalanche Vs. Wild: Playoff Hopefuls Face Off

It's finally here. The home stretch of the NHL regular season, where every game matters in the standings. The Western Conference is extremely tight this season, as nine teams are currently separated by only five points in the standings. Of those nine, only five are going to still be around come playoff time.

Tonight's game between the Colorado Avalanche and their division opponent -- the Minnesota Wild -- carries serious playoff implications.The two teams are separated by a single point in the standings, with the winner back in the playoff picture.

Minnesota is a hot team, winning five of their past six games to enter the playoff conversation. They've enjoyed some spectacular goaltending from Niklas Backstrom and Anton Khudobin, and the offense has scored four or more goals in four of the past six games.

Colorado has been heading in the opposite direction since mid December. They have only won two games in a row once in that span, and the offense has failed to display the effortless firepower from the first three months of the season. The return of Chris Stewart has yielded few results, as he has two points in six games. Though there is good news on the horizon --Peter Mueller, Peter Forsberg, Ryan O'Reilly, and David Jones have all been skating with the team -- none of these players will be available to help the short-handed Avalanche tonight.

If Colorado wants to make the playoffs this season, they need to start winning games and making a move in the standings. Eight of their 13 games this month are on the road.

Craig Anderson will get the start in net for Colorado. Niklas Backstrom, fresh off his 1-0 shutout over the Los Angeles Kings, will get the start for Minnesota.

Puck drops at 7:00 pm MST.