NHL: Avalanche welcome Rangers in heavyweight matchup

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The Colorado Avalanche, after stumbling against one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, next will face the top team in the league when the New York Rangers visit Denver on Thursday.

Colorado is coming off a 2-1 loss on Tuesday to the Montreal Canadiens, who sit in last place in the Atlantic Division.

The Rangers, meanwhile, are set for their first game since becoming the first team to clinch a playoff spot this season.

New York (48-20-4, 100 points) has been nearly unbeatable since late January. The Rangers are 19-4-1 in their past 24 games as they head west for a quick two-game road trip through Colorado and Arizona.

New York won the first meeting with the Avalanche, 2-1 in overtime at home on Feb. 5, so they look to sweep the season series.

The Rangers have thrived in games going beyond regulation, where they are 10-4 including a 6-5 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. Adam Fox netted the winner 36 seconds into overtime.

Winning has become a familiar theme around the Rangers, who have prevailed in eight of their past 10 and three straight overall. New York is peaking with just 10 games left in the regular season as it battles the Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes for the top record in the Eastern Conference.

The Rangers lead Carolina by three points in the Metropolitan Division but have a game in hand on the Hurricanes.

“For us to stay as consistent as we have says a lot about our group,” said Fox, who has notched points in eight straight games. “It’s big for us to clinch that playoff spot. It’s just the first step.”

Colorado (46-21-5, 97 points) had been rolling until stumbling at home against Montreal on Tuesday night, a result that snapped the Avalanche’s nine-game winning streak. The loss came two days after the Avalanche rallied from a 4-0 deficit to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4 in overtime.

The recent struggles against teams likely out of the postseason are not how Colorado wants to head into the playoffs.

The Avalanche are in a close battle for first place in the Central Division with seven of their last 10 games against teams currently in a playoff position. The first-place Dallas Stars lead second-place Colorado by two points, though the Avalanche have a game in hand.

“Teams we play now are going to be playoff teams and every team is going to try and outwork us,” Colorado defenseman Cale Makar said. “We have to be able to show up every night.”

Colorado might be without one of its top six forwards against the Rangers. Valeri Nichushkin is nursing a lower-body injury, and his status for Thursday night was in question.

“It’s not something long term, but it’s something that could possibly keep him out,” coach Jared Bednar said after Wednesday’s practice.

The Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon will look to extend a pair of point streaks. MacKinnon has logged at least one point in all 35 home games this season (the second-longest streak in NHL history) and has also registered a point in 19 straight games overall.

He kept both streaks alive by scoring 43 seconds into the Tuesday game.

–Field Level Media

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