Two contenders in the tightly packed Northwest Division square off Thursday night when the Colorado Avalanche hosts the Minnesota Wild in each club's last game before the All-Star break.
The top four teams in the Northwest are separated by two points. Fourth-place Colorado (26-19-4) is one point behind Minnesota (27-19-3), which is tied with Vancouver - one point behind division-leading Calgary.
"You're not going to see anybody run away with it," Minnesota forward Brian Rolston said. "All the teams are going to stay bunched up and it's going to be those teams that can stay the most consistent down the stretch that are going to be in the playoffs."
Colorado missed a chance to move ahead of Minnesota on Tuesday, when the Avalanche suffered its first home shutout of the season - a 4-0 loss to Nashville. The Avalanche trailed 1-0 entering the third period, but gave up three goals in the final 20 minutes to lose in regulation for the first time in six games.
"I liked the way we competed and liked the energy we brought," said Colorado coach Joel Quenneville. "We just need to get it to a higher level than we had it for most of the night."
Colorado started the season 15-3-0 at home, but is just 2-4-1 there since Dec. 27. After averaging 3.8 goals per game during its hot start at Pepsi Center, the Avalanche has been held to an average of 1.6 in its last seven home games.
"We have to get better shots and bear down on our scoring opportunities," defenseman Scott Hannan said. "We just have to bear down on our chances when we get them."
Goaltender Jose Theodore has started nine consecutive games, going 5-3-1 with a 1.86 goals-against average in that stretch, but fatigue could have set in late in Tuesday's loss.
"I think in the first two periods I was fine," said Theodore, who stopped 20-of-21 shots in the first two periods but just 5-of-8 in the third. "But in the third they found a few holes."
The Wild fell out of first place with a 2-1 loss to Calgary on Tuesday. Rolston scored less than four minutes into the game, but the Wild were held scoreless the rest of the way, including an 0-for-3 mark on power-play opportunities. They're just 4-for-36 (11.1 percent) with the man advantage in their last 11 games.
Rolston has scored in each of the first two games of Minnesota's three-game road trip after being held without a goal in his previous nine games. He has one goal and two assists in four contests against the Avalanche this season.
Minnesota and Colorado have split those meetings, with the home team winning each of them. Minnesota is 4-15-0 with two ties in 21 all-time road games against Colorado.
Theodore is 2-1-0 with a tie, a shutout and a 1.41 GAA in four career games - two starts - against Minnesota. He could be spelled by backup Peter Budaj, who's 6-5-2 with a 2.78 GAA lifetime against the Wild.
Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom is 4-1-1 with a 2.28 GAA in six career games against Colorado.