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Pregame Skate: Avs', Sabres' playoff pushes collide, Jets back in action

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com
The Avs come off a dramatic win on Monday against Anaheim. (Getty Images)

The Pregame Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

Wednesday's scoreboard

7:30 ET, Colorado at Buffalo (NBC Sports Network)

Neither team would be in the playoffs if they started today, but the good news for both the Avalanche and Sabres is that the playoffs obviously don't start today, there are still a couple of weeks left. The better news? The playoffs aren't out of reach for either team.

We have two of the hottest teams in the league squaring off for some very big points. The Sabres and Avs have each won seven of their last 10, the Sabres with one loss beyond regulation in that time.

Here's where each team stands and you can see why right now -- and likely the rest of the way -- each game means so much. The Sabres are four points back of eighth place in the East, trailing the Washington Capitals, who have all of a sudden made it impossible for the Sabres to gain ground. The Avs meanwhile are technically in 11th place in the West but in actuality are tied for eighth with three others. They draw 11th by virtue of having played the most games among the bunch, so they need to continue to put pressure on the other teams to win their games in hand.

Perhaps the biggest reason each of these teams is trying and so far has been able to make a late-season push is the goaltending. Neither Ryan Miller nor Semyon Varlamov was very good at all in the early going this season but now they are each hotter than a July day in Arizona. Something's gotta give (or maybe more likely it'll be a three-point game).

8:30 ET, Dallas at Winnipeg

Speaking of hot teams, absolutely no team is hotter than the Dallas Stars . Not only have they climbed over the playoff bubble in the West, they have taken over first place in the Pacific and are building a buffer. Their lead is up to four points on second-place Phoenix. That tends to happen when you win 10 of 11 games including the last six games.

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But this could be their toughest challenge in some time. They just played on Tuesday night in Minnesota, slogging their way to a 1-0 win over the Wild. So they head eight hours (drive) north to Winnipeg to visit the well-rested Jets and their rabid home crowd.

It has been five whole days since the Jets last played a game and in that time they have seen their playoff hopes drop significantly. The teams ahead of them haven't been losing so now that every team has caught up to Winnipeg in games played, the Jets are seven points out of the Southeast Division and six back of eighth place. The margin for error is gone, particularly at home.

Just a reminder, Winnipeg is kind of good at home, going 21-10-4 this season.

7:30 ET, Ottawa at Montreal

Well, well, well, that Northeast Division race is open again now, isn't it?

It was easy to dismiss the Senators in the Northeast for weeks even though they appeared tantalizingly close to the Bruins in the standings. Almost all season they had played four or five more games than the Bruins so it wasn't as close as it seemed.

Then the Bruins decided to not be very good anymore and here we have the Sens only two points back with just one more game played. So what I'm getting at here is that the Senators can pull even in points with the Bruins tonight by beating the Canadiens . That's not asking for a whole heck of a lot with the way things have gone in Montreal this season. They will still have played two more games than the Bruins, but Boston is in a world of hurt, all of a sudden that worries you less with how little they are winning these days.

The idea of the Senators making the playoffs was wild and great enough given what the expectations were. But could you imagine them actually beating the defending champs in the division and take the second seed in the conference -- or possibly even third?

Others worth watching

10 ET, Detroit at Anaheim: The Ducks' hopes are gone so this one is pretty much just about the Red Wings, playing their second game in as many nights. They are only two points up on Nashville for fourth in the West and after tonight will have played two more games than the Preds.

10 ET, Phoenix at Vancouver: Vancouver has hit a lull but that's not hurting them with the 30-point lead they had built up in the Northwest. But Phoenix? They are seventh in the West but just one point ahead of teams 8-11, so yeah, points are pretty important.

10 ET, Columbus at Edmonton: OK, this probably isn't worth watching unless you're a fan of either team, but I usually put three games here and this was all that was left. Hard to find a game that has zero impact on the playoffs this season, but this one fits the bill.

Your promised miscellany

  • Tuesday's Winners & Losers
  • Here's an update on the glacial progress of the Blues sale which the NHL remains confident about. (Post-Dispatch)
  • There is a horse in the Race for the Roses named Howe Great after Gordie Howe. How awesome? Saratogian)
  • Matt Hendricks doesn't score often. He fights as much as he scores. But you couldn't tell from last night's shootout.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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