Over the last few weeks, the Minnesota Wild has climbed back into the postseason mix, while the Colorado Avalanche has fallen lower in the standings.
The Wild seeks its sixth victory in seven contests on Wednesday night, when it concludes a four-game homestand against the reeling Avalanche.
Minnesota (27-22-3) was tied for 10th in the competitive Western Conference on Jan. 12, trailing Northwest Division-rival Colorado by two points for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Since then, the Wild has gone 7-4-0 and is tied with Columbus for eighth. They've won four of six after the All-Star break, including a 3-2 shootout victory against Edmonton on Sunday as Mikko Koivu converted the lone goal in the tiebreaker.
"We need every point we can get, so it was a good game for us to get two points," said Niklas Backstrom, who made 28 saves through overtime, then stopped all four shootout attempts as the Wild improved to 2-1 on the homestand.
Collecting points, meanwhile, has been a struggle for the Avalanche (25-28-1) lately. They've gone 3-9-0 since Jan. 13 to drop to 14th in the West - one point ahead of last-place St. Louis.
With a 3-0 loss at Columbus on Tuesday, Colorado has lost a season-high four in a row on the road. The Avs have been outscored 7-1 as they look to close this three-game swing with a win.
"We're going to have to work to get out of it," Colorado coach Tony Granato said. "We're going to have to play more consistent ... we're going to have to play 60 minutes. We're going to have to battle like crazy."
While playing in Minnesota hasn't been easy recently, the Avalanche ended an 0-3-2 skid there with a 6-5 victory on Dec. 1.Milan Hejduk had a goal and two assists during a four-goal second period for Colorado.
Hejduk leads the team with 20 goals, and is second with 40 points. He has 16 goals and 38 points in 46 career games versus the Wild, but all the Avs were held off the scoresheet in a 2-0 home loss on Jan. 4.
Backstrom made 33 saves in that contest, and has helped the Wild win two of three from the Avalanche this season. He's 9-2-1 with a 2.19 goals-against average in 12 career matchups versus Colorado, and 12-7-0 with a 2.04 GAA over his last 19 starts overall.
Colorado's defense has been porous lately, allowing 49 goals in its last 13 games. Peter Budaj is 3-4-0 with a 3.52 GAA in his last eight starts, while Andrew Raycroft has a 3.98 GAA during a personal five-game slide.
Budaj has been in net for all three games versus Minnesota in 2008-09, but Raycroft will be in net against Minnesota. Raycroft has won both career matchups against the Wild, yet hasn't faced them since Dec. 26, 2006 while playing with Toronto.
Koivu, the Wild's leader with 15 goals and 36 assists, will try to capitalize on the Avalanche's struggling defense. He has four goals and 10 assists in his last 13 contests, and nine goals and six assists in his last 16 versus Colorado.