Despite being two of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL, the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild are poised to become serious playoff contenders.
The two Northwest Division rivals each look to bounce back from a loss when they meet Sunday night in Denver.
Both teams have 39 points, one back of Columbus, which currently owns the eighth and final playoff spot in the tight Western Conference. While there is still three months left in the regular season, finding a way to earn points begins to become imperative for two teams that have struggled to find consistency.
"Obviously we look at the standings every day to see where we are and how the other teams have played," Colorado forward Marek Svatos told the team's official Web site. "We have to prepare like every game is the playoffs. You look back to a few years ago when we were out of the playoffs by one point. We have to make sure we're sharp for every game."
The Avalanche (19-18-1) wasn't very sharp in its most recent contest, falling 6-1 to the Blue Jackets at home Friday. Darcy Tucker's first-period goal gave Colorado the lead, but Columbus scored three in each of the next two periods to hand the Avalanche its second straight loss.
"We lost the game in the second period," Colorado coach Tony Granato said. "That pretty much sums it up."
The Avalanche has been outscored 9-2 in its last two losses after posting 14 goals in winning its previous three games. Colorado has 104 goals on the season and continues to try to find some offense with leading scorer Paul Stastny on injured reserve with a fractured forearm.
Peter Budaj has lost two in a row, but is expected to start in goal for the Avalanche. He is 7-6-2 with a 2.95 GAA versus Minnesota.
The Wild (18-16-3) failed to hold a one-goal lead in the third period, falling 3-2 in overtime at home to Detroit on Saturday. Antti Miettinen and Owen Nolan each scored for Minnesota, which looks to earn at least one point in three consecutive games for the first time since mid-November.
"I can say that I feel better with what the team can do," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "Now it shows that we're playing better as a team and that means we have a chance to win."
Josh Harding made 35 saves for the Wild, who played their first game since learning star Marian Gaborik will be out at least 10 weeks because of left hip surgery.
Niklas Backstrom, though, could be back in net for this contest. He is 17-12-2 with a 2.28 GAA on the season and 8-2-1 versus the Avalanche, but struggled in a 6-5 loss to them on Dec. 1 in the teams' most recent contest.
Milan Hejduk had a goal and two assists for Colorado in that game, while Mikko Koivu had the same and Pierre-Marc Bouchard added two goals with an assist for Minnesota, which won 3-1 at Colorado on Nov. 6.
Bouchard has three goals in two games versus the Avalanche this season.