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NHL on NBCSN: Philipp Grubauer continues to be ‘hot goalie’ for Avs

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday night’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When the Colorado Avalanche acquired Philipp Grubauer from the Washington Capitals during the off-season, many assumed that he’d be the 1B to Semyon Varlamov‘s 1A. But when the Avs have needed victories, they’ve turned to the newcomer, instead.

“He’s the hot goalie. We’ll ride him as long as we have to,” head coach Jared Bednar said.

Thanks, in part, to Grubauer, the Avalanche have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They’re currently in a 6-0-1 stretch over their last seven games and the 27-year-old netminder has been between the pipes for each one of those contests. He’s also given up two goals or fewer in all but one of those games (he allowed three goals in a win over Vegas).

“He’s given us such security back there,” forward Sven Andrighetto said of Grubauer. “You play with so much more confidence if your goalie is doing well. He’s been great for us, and we feed off that, for sure.”

Even though things have been going really well for Colorado of late, they can’t afford to take their foot off the accelerator because they haven’t secured a playoff spot. Heading into tonight’s action, they hold just a one-point lead over the Arizona Coyotes, who are sitting in ninth spot in the Western Conference.

Tonight’s game against the Blues won’t be easy. St. Louis is fighting to move up the Central Division standings and they’ve been a tough out for Colorado this year. In the previous three matchups between these two teams this season, the Blues have won all three.

Interestingly enough, Blues goalie Jake Allen, who has taken a back seat to Jordan Binnington of late, has been in goal for each of those wins against the Avalanche. Allen has posted 1.64 goals-against-average and a .951 save percentage against Colorado in 2018-19.

Tonight’s game against the Blues will be the start of a very busy week for the Avs, who will play four games in six days to close out the schedule. After tonight’s clash, they’ll have home games against Edmonton and Winnipeg before heading to San Jose for the regular-season finale on Saturday night.

The fact that Gabriel Landeskog returned to lineup on Friday night was huge and it will continue to be huge. Now, if they could get Mikko Rantanen back, that would increase their odds of making it to the postseason.

“We’re doing different things on different nights to win hockey games,” Bednar said after Friday’s shootout win over the Coyotes. “We’re getting contributions from our whole lineup. Especially with the injuries, guys are stepping up and taking on bigger roles and excelling in those roles. It’s a team game and we’re playing like that right now. There’s no selfishness in our room, it’s all team first.”

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks face Avalanche on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Avalanche head into Sunday in a solid position, as they hold a one-point lead and game in hand on the closest teams behind them vying for the West’s second wild-card spot. That rosy outlook can change in a big way if the Avs can’t beat the Blackhawks, though.

Looking at The Push for the Playoffs, things don’t look very good — at all — for Chicago, but this proud team likely isn’t waving the white flag on the 2018-19 season just yet. Beating the Avalanche (particularly in regulation) would certainly improve their odds of making an unlikely run, too.

With the stakes in mind – not to mention the star power in Nathan MacKinnon, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews – this should be a fun one at the United Center.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Colorado Avalanche at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Sunday, March 24, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Avs-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

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AVALANCHE

Derick Brassard — Nathan MacKinnon — J.T. Compher

Colin WilsonCarl SoderbergAndrew Agozzino

Alexander KerfootTyson JostMatt Calvert

Gabriel BourqueSven Andrighetto

Samuel GirardErik Johnson

Ian ColeTyson Barrie

Nikita ZadorovPatrik Nemeth

Ryan Graves

Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

[More: check out this preview for Sunday’s game.]

BLACKHAWKS

Dylan Sikura — Jonathan Toews — Patrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatDylan StromeBrendan Perlini

Brandon SaadArtem AnisimovDominik Kahun

Chris KunitzDavid KampfMarcus Kruger

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook

Carl DahlstromErik Gustafsson

Gustav ForslingConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

Gord Miller (play-by-play) and Joe Micheletti (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

MacKinnon, Grubauer leading Avs’ playoff charge

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Two weeks ago the Colorado Avalanche looked like they were done.

They were in 10th place in the Western Conference, four points out of a playoff spot, had lost four of their previous six games, and were just finding out that Gabriel Landeskog — their captain and one of their three best players — was going to be sidelined for the next four-to-six weeks.

Or in other words, most of the remaining schedule.

Given how top-heavy the Avalanche lineup has been this season with Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen carrying the bulk of the load offensively, plus how much the team had struggled over the previous few months following a white-hot start and where they were in the standings, it would have been easy to write them off entirely. No one would have blamed you if you did because in most seasons that would have probably been enough to sink them.

But this, again, is not most seasons in the Western Conference Wild Card race where nobody seems to want to claim the second spot.

Thanks to their 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night, their third win in a row and fourth in the past six, the Avalanche enter Friday back in a playoff position in the West, having jumped back over the Minnesota Wild and Arizona Coyotes in recent days. The Wild can move back ahead of them with a win in Washington Friday night, but the Avalanche will still have a game in hand.

[Playoff push: Wild can move back ahead on Friday night]

Overall, their situation still looks significantly better than it did just two weeks ago when they appeared to be finished.

Here is how they have done it and what still remains ahead of them. The remaining the road will not be an easy one to travel.

MacKinnon is still carrying the offense

As he has done for the past two years, MacKinnon is the engine that makes this machine run.

Overall, the numbers are just about as good as you can get in today’s NHL. He has already topped the 35-goal, 50-assist, 90-point mark for the second year in a row, and is also once again scoring at a 100-point pace over 82 games (he would have easily eclipsed the 100-point mark a year ago had he not missed eight games due to injury, and he has a darn good chance to actually do it this season given his current pace).

More recently, he has been quite literally the only forward providing any sort of consistent offense.

Since Landeskog went out of the lineup the Avalanche have only scored 15 goals in their six games. MacKinnon has scored or assisted on seven of them, while he has been on the ice for eight of them. The only forward on the team that has more than two points during this most recent stretch is Sven Andrighetto with three points. Even Rantanen only has two goals and no assists. Along with the production, MacKinnon has also been a 55 percent possession player and is averaging more than six(!) shots on goal per game. It is, quite literally, the Nathan MacKinnon show right now in Colorado when it comes to the offense.

But there is one other player that is helping him.

Philipp Grubauer is finally playing like the Avalanche hoped he would

If you are not going to have a great offense, you are going to need to keep the puck out of your own net to have any chance of winning.

The two ways to do that are with a suffocating defense, or with some outstanding goaltending (preferably both).

The Avalanche defense has not been particularly great in recent years, and still is not this season, which leaves a ton of pressure on their goalies to be great almost every night.

The Avalanche had high hopes for Grubauer when they acquired him over the summer and immediately signed him to a three-year, $10 million contract. Things did not get off to a great start for him this season as he struggled through his first 20 appearances.

Lately, though, he has finally started to play like the goalie the Avalanche were hoping he would be, and his recent contributions might be even more vital to the team’s climb back up the standings than MacKinnon’s.

He has started five of the Avalanche’s past six games and recorded a .974 save percentage during that stretch. That includes two shutouts, only one game allowing more than a single goal, zero games allowing more than two, and his 44-save effort on Thursday night against the Stars.

In his past nine appearances dating back to the end of February he has a .969 save percentage.

That level of goaltending is going to give you a chance to win a lot of hockey games. With him in net lately, the Avalanche have been able to do just that.

Head-to-head results change everything

It is not just that the Avalanche have won a few games over the past two weeks that has helped, it is also who they have beaten in some those games. There is no faster way to make up ground in the playoff race than to beat one of the teams you are chasing in regulation. Those are four-point swings in the standings, and the Avalanche have had two of them in the past two games by beating Minnesota earlier this week and then Dallas on Friday to close to within four points of the first Wild Card spot.

Those wins were huge, and they have three more massive games on the schedule coming up over the next week, including a back-to-back set with the Chicago Blackhawks this weekend.

The Blackhawks are currently four points back of the Avalanche in the standings (with a game in hand) and the results of those two games will go a long way toward determining how chaotic the playoff race remains down the stretch. Two Blackhawks wins in regulation bring them even with the Avalanche in the standings. Two regulation wins by the Avalanche would pretty much bury the Blackhawks’ chances. A clean split (no three-point games) leaves everybody right where they are.

Later in the week they play the Arizona Coyotes. Every single one of those games is going to be massive, especially when you look at the rest of their schedule around those games because it has the potential to be brutal.

Along with the three head-to-head games against Chicago (two) and Arizona, they also have to play a Vegas team that is dominating everybody it encounters right now, they have to go to St. Louis and San Jose, and then play Winnipeg at home. The only remaining game that is not against a playoff team or a team they are in direct competition with for a playoff spot is their April 2 game against Edmonton, which is the second half of a back-to-back after traveling to St. Louis.

The Avalanche deserve a lot of credit for bouncing back and playing their way back into playoff contention, but the road ahead is not going to be an easy one, and a lot of it might come down to how they handle those upcoming games against Chicago and Arizona. A lot can go right i those games … and a lot can go wrong very, very, very quickly if they can not capitalize on them.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Push for the Playoffs: Avs look to gain ground in West race

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

Out east, all eyes will be on the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN), but in the Western Conference, a Central Division matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars has quite of bit of playoff intrigue.

The Avs visit the Stars knowing a win could put them in a good spot. The Stars sit in the first wild-card spot on 73 points, following by the Minnesota Wild in the final playoff seed on 72 points and the Avalanche sitting on the periphery with 70 points.

Given that the Wild are in Tampa to face the nearly-unbeatable Lightning, a win for the Avs, who meet the streaking Stars — winners of their last three games — would be a huge boost to their playoff chances if Tampa can take care of business a few states over in Florida.

“For us, it’s not really pressure,” Avs forward Sven Andrighetto told the Avs’ website on Wednesday. “It’s a position we want to be in. We’re playing meaningful hockey, hockey that matters. Every single point, every game matters… to make the playoffs or not.”

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning vs. Canadiens
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Capitals vs. Penguins
Islanders vs. Hurricanes

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Flames vs. Wild
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Stars
Jets vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Panthers at Bruins, 7 p.m. ET
Blue Jackets at Penguins, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream)
Islanders at Senators, 7:30 p.m. ET
Wild at Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET
Sabres at Blackhawks, 8:30 p.m. ET
Avalanche at Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET
Canucks at Oilers, 9 p.m. ET
Flames at Coyotes, 9 p.m. ET
Blues at Kings 10:30 p.m. ET
Canadiens at Sharks 10:30 p.m. ET

Here are today’s Stanley Cup Playoff clinching scenarios:

The Lightning will clinch a playoff berth:
• If they defeat the Wild in any fashion AND any of the following occurs:
• The Canadiens lose in regulation at the Sharks
• The Blue Jackets lose in regulation at the Penguins (NBCSN; live stream)
• Both Montreal and Columbus lose in any fashion

OR

• If they get one point against Minnesota and both Montreal and Columbus lose in regulation.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Lightning – 100 percent
Bruins – 100 percent
Maple Leafs – 100 percent
Islanders – 98.6 percent
Capitals – 98 percent
Penguins – 90.6 percent
Hurricanes – 85.5 percent
Canadiens – 68.4 percent
Blue Jackets – 56 percent
Flyers – 2 percent
Sabres – 0.5 percent
Panthers – 0.5 percent
Rangers – 0 percent
Devils – 0 percent
Red Wings – 0 percent
Senators – 0 percent
WESTERN CONFERENCE
PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Flames – 100 percent
Sharks – 100 percent
Jets – 99.9 percent
Predators – 99.8 percent
Golden Knights – 98.4 percent
Blues – 97.2 percent
Stars 82.8 percent
Avalanche – 45.6 percent
Wild – 41.8 percent
Coyotes 28 percent
Oilers – 3.5 percent
Canucks – 2.1 percent
Blackhawks – 0.9 percent
Ducks – 0 percent
Kings – 0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators – 18.5 percent*
Red Wings – 13.5 percent
Kings – 11.5 percent
Devils – 9.5 percent
Ducks – 8.5 percent
Blackhawks – 7.5 percent
Canucks – 6.5 percent
Rangers – 6 percent
Oilers – 5 percent
Panthers – 3.5 percent
Sabres – 3 percent
Avalanche 2.5 percent
Coyotes – 2 percent
Flyers – 1.5 percent
Blue Jackets – 1 percent**
(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)
(**CBJ’s 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick is owned by OTT. If top three, moves to 2020)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning – 108 points
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 94 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 92 points
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – 86 points
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche – 85 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 84 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 40 goals
John Tavares, Maple Leafs – 37 goals
Brayden Point, Lightning – 37 goals
Jeff Skinner, Sabres – 36 goals


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Avalanche host Penguins on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Colorado Avalanche at 9:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Two teams tangling to keep the good times rolling?

Sounds like a recipe for an exciting game. And then you read the ingredients.

Malkin. Crosby. MacKinnon. Rantanen.

It all adds up to what should be an entertaining affair for two teams playing the second half of respective back to backs.

[WATCH LIVE – 9:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The Colorado Avalanche put their five-game winning streak on the line against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who came from behind on Tuesday night three times against the Winnipeg Jets and squeaked out a 4-3 win.

The travel is brutal from Winnipeg to Denver, but the Penguins are 3-0-1 in their past four games and seem to finally be gelling as a team for the time being.

The Avs have been a scoring machine with 22 goals for in during their respective streak while taking care of business at the other end of the rink with just 11 goals against in that span. Colorado is also coming off a big 3-2 win against the might Nashville Predators on Tuesday.

Colorado’s defensive prowess will be put to the test if Pittsburgh’s recent trend of goal scoring continues. The Pens have four goals or more in five of their past six games. It helps that Sid is leading that charge with four goals and 11 points in his past seven games.

Colorado counters with fellow Cole Harbour native Nathan MacKinnon. Best buds off the ice (and on Tim Hortons commercials) Crosby will be out to shut down MacKinnon and his five-game point streak.

[Read more about this game in this extended preview]

What: Pittsburgh Penguins at Colorado Avalanche
Where: Pepsi Center
When: Wednesday, November 28th, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Red Wings stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

PENGUINS

Jake GuentzelSidney CrosbyBryan Rust

Tanner PearsonEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel

Zach Aston-ReeseDerick BrassardDaniel Sprong

Garrett Wilson — Riley SheahanDerek Grant

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Jack JohnsonJamie Oleksiak

Olli MaattaJuuso Riikola

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

AVALANCHE

Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen

Tyson JostAlexander KerfootColin Wilson

Matt NietoCarl SoderbergMatt Calvert

Sven AndrighettoJ.T. CompherGabriel Bourque

Samuel GirardErik Johnson

Ian ColeNikita Zadorov

Patrik NemethMark Barberio

Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck