Not to fall subject to the usual hyperbole that surrounds sports, but when the Colorado Avalanche host Calgary Friday night, they will be playing the most important professional hockey game to take place in Denver since 2008.
The situation is this: The Avalanche are in 8th place, the final playoff position, in the NHL's Western Conference with 89 points after 76 games. Their opponents, Calgary Flames are in 9th place, with 87 points, after 77 games. A win by the Flames Friday would move them into a tie with the Avs.
Three weeks ago the Avs seemed to be securely on their way to the postseason. On March 9th, the Avs were in 6th place in the Western Conference with 80 points.They led 7th place Nashville by 5 points, 8th place Detroit by 6 points and 9th place Calgary by 7.
The Avs were second in the Northwest Division, trailing Vancouver who had 82 points. They hosted the Canucks that night with a chance to tie them for the division lead. But the Avalanche twice blew three goal leads and lost 6-4.
Three weeks later, the Avs fortunes have changed for the worse. Colorado has lost 6 of their last 7 games and has dropped from division title contention to scrambling to hang on to the last playoff spot. Nashville is now in 5th place, leading the Avalanche by 7 points. Detroit, who has won their last 7 games, is in 6th, leading the Avs by 6. The L.A. Kings hold down 7th by 3 points over Colorado.
The good news for the Avs is that they control their own fate. They don't have to rely on another team to lose for them to make the playoffs. If the Avalanche win three of their remaining six games. starting with Friday's game with Calgary, they should make the playoffs. But given the way they've played in the month of March, that could be a tall order.