Colorado Avalanche’s Last Playoff Chance Starts with Chicago

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 28: Nathan MacKinnon
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 28: Nathan MacKinnon /

The Colorado Avalanche, just like in every game for the last week or so, must beat the visiting team, in this case the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Colorado Avalanche have been in this familiar territory for weeks now. It’s a must-win situation, do or die. I think I’ve started at least the last five preview posts with some version of that.

Well, the Avalanche have their backs against the wall tonight. While mathematically they can lose one more game if they plan on winning the other four, that one game can’t be at home against a team that’s only playing for pride. The four games after tonight’s are much tougher — they need these two points in the bag.

To add a little filip to the game, the Avs are the technically the reason the Chicago Blackhawks are playing meaningless hockey right now — Colorado eliminated them from playoff contention in their last game. Needless to say, the Blackhawks are going to have a little extra pride coming into tonight’s game.

The Avalanche have lost three of their last four games. A loss tonight signifies a slide worthy of their 2016 collapse. Against the Blackhawks, though, Colorado has gone 2-0-1 this season with their last victory being 5-1 in Chicago.

Tonight can’t be the night the Avs start losing to the Hawks again.

Colorado is coming off that frustrating 2-1 home loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Chicago, meanwhile, beat the Winnipeg Jets 6-2 at home. Weirdly, the Hawks had to invoke the emergency backup goalie situation when Anton Forsberg got injured in warmups and Collin Delia was injured in the third period.

Colorado played backup backup goalie Andrew Hammond against Philly. He was solid after getting his NHL legs under him again. However, the Avs have both Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier available to play tonight.

How to Enjoy the Game

Game time: March 30, 7:00pm MT
TV Networks: Altitude 2 (Avs feed), NBCSCH (Hawks feed)
Radio: Altitude Radio (AM 950)

Lively Practice

More from Mile High Sticking

I attended the Colorado Avalanche practice yesterday. If that wasn’t the final home practice of the regular season, there will probably be only one more, on Saturday.

The players looked lively. They worked a lot on the same kinds of drills as always. The focus seemed to be on offensive zone entries. Semyon Varlamov participated in only the first few minutes of practice. Jonathan Bernier occupied one net for most of the practice, while Andrew Hammond and Spencer Martin rotated through the other crease.

The practice itself was short — just 30 minutes — and rather serious. However, most players stayed on the ice afterward to work on their own. Tyson Jost and Alexander Kerfoot worked heavily on their shots, including one timers.

At the other end of the ice, a clutch of players worked on scoring on Martin. The group included Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Sven Andrighetto — returned from his lingering leg injury — Nail Yakupov, and Patrik Nemeth. This was the especially lively part of the practice. It even included that new narwal gesture:

I think it’s a signal of when the team trying to score does something especially dumb.
Hopefully no narwal moments occur tonight.

Nathan MacKinnon Must Score

As Nathan MacKinnon goes, so go the Colorado Avalanche. Well, MacKinnon has no goals and only three assists in the last five games. He has no points whatsoever in the last three games. In that timeframe, the Avalanche have gone 2-3-0.

Nathan MacKinnon must score. His entire line must produce.

MacKinnon knows of the expectations put on him. In talking to Mile High Sports‘ Terry Frei, he remarked about how his line getting only four goals in the last four games “isn’t going to win us any hockey games, other than the the one in the shootout.”

It’s no secret that MacKinnon has put the team on his back and carried them to their current 90-point spot. But then, those are the kinds of expectations MacKinnon has faced his entire career.

What I’ve seen of Nathan, the elevation of his stickwork, the change in how he uses his speed, are items I don’t think are going to fade away. While it’s true teams have found ways to slow the game down and suffocate his elite skills, Chicago doesn’t play that way.

I fully expect MacKinnon and his line to have the chances. It’s up to them to finish those chances.

Next: Can MacKinnon Eclipse Kane?

After tonight, the Avalanche embark on a three-game road trip through California. They have only one more home game after this one — the final game of the regular season on April 7.