On December 29, the Colorado Avalanche had found themselves right in the middle of the playoff conversation. They had won six of eight games and were starting to gel as a team, finally, after a very inconsistent rollercoaster beginning to the season.
Then star forward Matt Duchene (who led the team with goals) went down for "at least a month" with a serious knee injury just before the start of a brutal stretch of the schedule.
Since that point, the Avalanche have managed a 9-8-3 record without Duchene -- in no small part thanks to Paul Stastny rediscovering his scoring touch and rookie Gabriel Landeskog discovering how to become an NHL power forward. Without their most talented player, the Avalanche stayed afloat for the past 20 games and still find themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt.
With only a single week (and four games) remaining before the NHL trade deadline on February 27, Colorado is still trapped in limbo between buying and selling at the deadline. Defensemen Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina have already switched teams for significant value, and the Avalanche may be tempted to swap some of their defensive depth, like Kyle Quincey, for a top winger or a couple of picks in this year's draft.
Colorado's opponent, the Winnipeg Jets, also find themselves in a very similar position. They have a young team with postseason aspirations and a rabid fanbase that would love to see the playoffs in their first year back in Manitoba. There are two extremely valuable points on the line for both clubs, and there should be an electric playoff atmosphere in Winnipeg for this matchup between Western and Eastern Conference teams.
Goalie Semyon Varlamov will start in net for Colorado. The young netminder has had three spectacular games in a row, including stealing a point against St, Louis, filling in admirably for an injured Jean-Sebastien Giguere against Vancouver, and allowing only a single goal against the high-flying Edmonton Oilers. If he's getting hot, it could go a long way towards solidifying the Avalanche's postseason chances.
Puck drops at 6:30 p.m. MDT.
For more coverage, visit our Avalanche blog Mile High Hockey and our Jets blog Arctic Ice Hockey.