This was a year the New York Rangers were rebooting and the Colorado Avalanche taking the next step into serious playoff contenders.
But heading into their matchup Friday night at Pepsi Center in Denver, the two teams are separated by just five points at essentially the halfway point of the season. The Rangers (17-15-7, 41 points) are competitive -- despite the 7-2 home loss to Pittsburgh on Wednesday night -- and making noise in the Eastern Conference.
The Avalanche, meanwhile, are sinking fast. They have lost six in a row, two of those in overtime, and have gone 3-8-3 over the last month. The swagger that put them atop the Central Division is gone, and they have fallen to third after 41 games.
Colorado (19-14-8, 46 points) is in desperate need of a win, but New York might not be the team to face. The Rangers are 7-0-3 in their last 10 games against Western Conference opponents and have swept all four of their road games against the West.
The Avalanche might get a break Friday night. New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was named to the All-Star Game on Wednesday, may get the night off after three tough games. He was in net for wins at Nashville and St. Louis on Saturday and Monday, respectively, and then started again Wednesday. He was pulled after the Penguins scored their sixth goal.
Rangers coach Dan Quinn said the loss to Pittsburgh was not Lundqvist's fault.
"Because it's all on me," he said after the game. "He never should have played. Huge mistake on my part putting him in that position. Two intense games in Nashville and St. Louis where he had to make a lot of saves, a lot of big ones, and he shouldn't have played. It certainly is way more on me than it is on him to put him in that position. Lesson learned." >> Read more
Copyright 2018 by the Associated Press