The reigning Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche are in a dogfight with the Minnesota Wild for a playoff berth. Still, Wild coach Dean Evason believes the teams’ Wednesday night contest in Saint Paul, Minn., isn’t any bigger than any other game on the schedule.
“Every game is important, right?” Evason said before the Avalanche leapfrogged Minnesota into third place in the hotly contested Central Division by earning a point with a 4-3 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday in Denver. That contest was a rematch of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final.
Both the Avalanche and the Wild have 61 points, but Minnesota has played one more game, so the Wild slipped into the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
Calgary also has 61 points but has played one more game than the Wild, so the Flames are on the outside looking in at a playoff spot heading into Wednesday’s action.
Yes, things are that close in the Western Conference playoff race. And, yes, the outcome of the Colorado-Minnesota game will likely play a significant role in both teams’ playoff chances.
“We know where we’re at standings-wise and who we’re playing,” Evason said. “We have to continue to have that desperation every game. They’re obviously Stanley Cup champs. They know how to play the game regardless who’s in or out of their lineup. They’ve done it. We’re going to see their best game, for sure.”
Wild goalie Marc-Andre Fleury admitted that the matchup with the Avalanche might be the biggest game of the season so far.
“We’re so close in the standings,” he said, according to the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. “Very good team. … It’ll be a great challenge for sure.”
Minnesota will be playing the fourth game of a seven-game homestand and comes in off a 2-1 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers on Monday. That followed an intense 3-2 shootout victory over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.
After Colorado’s visit, the Wild host the Western Conference-leading Dallas Stars before facing the Nashville Predators, who are just five points behind them in the Central. The last game of the homestand is against the Los Angeles Kings, who are just one point behind the Pacific Division-leading Vegas Golden Knights.
“We’ve got to rise up to those big games, right?” Fleury said. “We got a couple of points here the last couple of games. We’ve got to grind it out and try to get some points as much as we can.”
Colorado twice blew one-goal leads in the third period Tuesday night against Tampa Bay and had to settle for just one point. Steven Stamkos scored in the first round of the shootout and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made it stand up as the Avalanche failed on all three of their attempts.
“I liked the game,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “I thought it was a relatively even hockey game. Both teams played hard. Both teams generated some good chances. … Pretty good hockey game against a good team. Just would have liked to come away with two points instead of one.”
Avalanche defenseman Bowen Byram added, “I just think in the third we didn’t quite come out with our best stuff and I guess it results in a single point. You know we’ve got to regroup here because we have a real big game against (Minnesota on Wednesday). Quick turnaround, get out there and kind of put this in the past.”
–Field Level Media