NHL Hockey

Avs fighting to hold onto wild card spot vs. Blackhawks

The Colorado Avalanche have answered five losses in a seven-game stretch with three straight victories to grab a tenuous hold on the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

The Avalanche (33-29-12) look to strengthen their grasp on the conference's eighth seed on Saturday afternoon when they begin a home-and-home series against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks.

Philipp Grubauer has played a significant role in Colorado's three-game winning streak, turning aside 102 of 104 shots to help the Avalanche pull even in points with Arizona. The Avalanche can claim the tie-breaker over the Coyotes based on goal differential.

Grubauer, who recorded 26 saves in a 2-1 setback against Chicago on Dec. 21, made 23 of his career-high 44 stops in the third period of Thursday's 3-1 victory versus Dallas.

"Over the last couple games, just take it chance by chance and situation by situation," the 27-year-old German said of his recent approach. "Read the game, scan who's on the ice. Scan where they come from. Read where the puck is going. Just simplify it."

Colorado coach Jared Bednar is a fan of that approach by Grubauer, who owns a 5-2-0 mark with three shutouts, a slim 0.85 goals-against average and .972 save percentage in his last eight appearances.

"He looks sharp, he looks athletic, fast, strong down low. Anything you want to see out of your goaltender, we're seeing it out of him right now," Bednar said

Tyson Barrie has stepped up his game as well, scoring in the third period against the Stars for his fourth goal in his last three games to boost his total to 72 in his career. That mark ties Sandis Ozolinsh for a franchise record among defensemen.

"It's hard to really put a finger on anything," Barrie said of his goal-scoring streak. "It's just one of those things that you need to take it when you get it."

Chicago (32-31-10) has answered a five-game winning streak with back-to-back losses to reside four points behind Colorado for the final wild-card spot.

"I'm aware of the standings, I'm aware we need points, but it's how we play that matters. That's where we're at," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said.

Defenseman Erik Gustafsson scored in Monday's 3-2 overtime loss versus Vancouver and again three nights later in a 3-1 setback against Philadelphia. The 27-year-old Swede has been productive in the season series with Colorado, notching an assist in Chicago's 3-2 overtime win on Dec. 29 and setting up a pair of tallies in a 5-3 setback on Feb. 22.

Captain Jonathan Toews set up Gustafsson's goal versus the Flyers to move within two assists of the career-high 44 he set in 2010-11. The former Conn Smythe and Selke Trophy recipient resides three points shy of his personal-best total of 76, although numbers don't hold much water for Toews in the face of back-to-back losses.

"Pretty frustrating that it's another huge opportunity at home, and it's two in a row that we fall short," the 30-year-old Toews said. "Still wouldn't say we played as good in our own building as we have on the road as of late.

"So, we have to find a way to be better here. Yeah, can't allow ourselves to fall short and not get any points anymore."

Former Hart Trophy recipient Patrick Kane has five points (three goals, two assists) in the season series, highlighted by capping a two-goal performance with an overtime tally on Dec. 29.

--Field Level Media

Updated March 22, 2019

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