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Avs control fate in playoff chase

Avs Peter Mueller is helped off ice Sunday
Avs Peter Mueller is helped off ice Sunday
AP Photo David Zalubowski

It's amazing how situations can change in just a matter of a day or two, especially in the world of professional sports. After Friday's loss to the Calgary Flames, the Colorado Avalanche and their supporters seemed to be resigned to the fact that a playoff spot, something that seemed ironclad two weeks ago, was slipping from their grasp faster than a dollar bill in a windstorm.

Yet after Sunday's come-from-behind, give-up-the-lead-but-score-in-overtime victory, the playoff hunt is suddenly back on. Avs fans have learned what the "magic number" for the Avs playoff spot is, how many games each team has left and who they are playing.

For a short time, the Avs loss to the Flames Friday night took the wind out of the sails of Avs Nation. While the Flames had won 5 out of their last 8, the Avs had won just 1 out of 7, allowing the Flames to make up a 7 point difference in less than three weeks. The victory in Denver completed the Flames comeback, allowing them to tie the Avs at 89 points. The Avs did have an advantage in that they had played one less game and had more victories. But the Flames had the momentum and had come into Denver and won the all-important head-to-head matchup.

Early in March the Avs and their fans were looking at the possibility of catching Vancouver for the Northwest Division title and third place in the Western Conference. By the end of the month, the Avs were scrambling to hang on to the eighth (final) playoff spot. And Friday's loss seemed to leave the Avs looking up at Calgary instead of looking back.

By Sunday night, all that changed. The Flames lost to the Chicago Blackhawks Sunday afternoon, failing to gain any ground and staying tied at 89 points. Then the Avalanche did the improbable, beating the Western Conference-leading San Jose Sharks 5-4. The win gave the Avs 91 points to Calgary's 89.

Suddenly, Avs fans had hope. With the win, they could see the Avs keeping the lead and making the playoffs, something that seemed unlikely just 48 hours before.

Calgary has three games remaining. They are at home Tuesday against San Jose and Thursday against Minnesota. They finish the season Saturday at Vancouver.

The Avalanche have four games left. They play at Vancouver Tuesday and at NHL bottom-dweller Edmonton Wednesday. They return home Friday to face the Chicago Blackhawks and then finish the season Sunday with an afternoon home game against the Los Angeles Kings.

The Avalanche need to win two of the four to guarantee the playoff spot. That would give them 95 points, which is the most Calgary could get if they win all three of their remaining games. The Avs own the tiebreakers with the Flames by having more overall victories and by winning the season series between the teams 4 games to 2.

For the past few weeks, the Avalanche has been claiming that they control their own fate. The next four games will prove if they truly believe that.


-For the third time this season, the Avs have lost their hottest player to injury. In November, they lost David Jones to a knee injury. At the start of March, they lost Brandon Yip to a shoulder injury. And Monday the team announced that Peter Mueller suffered a concussion Sunday when he was pushed into the end boards by San Jose's Rob Blake. He is out indefinitely and will not make the two game Canadian road trip. Mueller has scored 20 points in the 15 games he has played for the Avalanche since coming over from Phoenix for Wojtek Wolski.

On the good news side, Yip returned to the lineup over the weekend and Jones is skating, looking towards returning in the near future.


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