Colorado Avalanche Looking to Finish Strong as Playoffs Quickly Approach

Anthony BumbacoCorrespondent IMarch 25, 2008

The Colorado Avalanche picked up two huge points on Monday night with a 2-0 shutout victory over their division rival, the Calgary Flames. With only five games remaining, the Avalanche look to improve their position in the conference while trying to hold off both Nashville and Edmonton—two teams making tremendous pushes for a playoff bid.

The way things stand, barring a sweep of the final five games of the season, it appears that the Avalanche squad is destined to face either No. 1 seeded Detroit or No. 2 seeded San Jose, both powerhouse squads at the top of the Western Conference.

Who would the Avalanche have the best bet of defeating in a seven-game playoff series? The answer: Detroit.

Although the Wings have been playing great hockey for much of the season (with the exception of their tailspin in mid February), the Avalanche always seem prepared when they face Detroit. This dates back to the long standing rivalry that existed between the two teams in the late 90s.

After the Avalanche's key defensive pick-ups at the trade deadline, they match up very well with the Red Wings. The Avs can role four very solid lines and six very capable defenders.

The Ben Guite line should be able to shut down snipers Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Punishers like Adam Foote, Ruslan Salei, Jeff Finger, and even Kurt Sauer can definitely make it a long series for a very finesse Detroit Redwings squad. Also, heading down the stretch the Wings have a question mark in goal, with the oft-injured Hasek and a very much cooled down Chris Osgood.

However, if they face San Jose, it's difficult to see the Avs handling the Sharks bigger forwards and physical play. 

It is quite evident that Peter Forsberg, though in limited time due to injuries, has had a very huge impact on the Avs. He added another component that teams need to focus on, taking pressure off of Stastny, Sakic, Hejduk, Smyth, and other top forwards. The Avs power play has also seen a major resurgence since the return of Foppa.

Forsberg very much proved his worth in Calgary last night and was in a constant battle with Calgary's top d-man, Dion Phaneuf, showing that he will not back down from anyone. I think that Forsberg will be a major key to the Avalanche playoff run.

I definitely think the Avs can hold off both Edmonton and Nashville so long as they continue to play very tight defensive hockey. They control their own destiny down the stretch playing Minnesota twice, Vancouver twice, and Edmonton once—all teams that they are battling for position with.

It should also be noted that three of their final five games are at home where they sit at 24-12-2, third behind only to Detroit and Anaheim in wins at home.

This team is capable of putting together a very strong finish with a shot at even winning the Northwest Division and avoiding the Wings and Sharks all together. I firmly believe that if this team can remain healthy and play strong, responsible hockey, the Avs should be poised for a lengthy playoff run.

Ultimately, the defining factor for the Avalanche is this: Can they remain healthy—something that has not occurred for much of the regular reason?

Also, can Jose Theodore continue his resurgence back to being an elite NHL goaltender?

Only time will tell if the Avs are pretenders or contenders...