The Minnesota Wild are looking to climb into one of the Western Conference's top eight spots. The Colorado Avalanche are trying to avoid slipping into last place in the conference.
The Wild conclude their season series with the Avalanche on Tuesday night when they try to build momentum heading into a critical road trip.
After rallying from a 2-0 second-period deficit, Minnesota (34-25-7) fell to Buffalo 3-2 in overtime on Sunday. Andrew Brunette's breakaway attempt late in the third period could have given the Wild two points, but the club settled for one as Drew Stafford beat Jose Theodore 46 seconds into overtime.
"That's playoff hockey right now," said coach Todd Richards, whose team moved into a three-way tie for ninth in the West. "The chances are really limited just because teams are putting a premium on defending."
With captain Mikko Koivu out with a broken left index finger and forward Cal Clutterbuck sidelined indefinitely with an upper-body injury, the Wild - looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008 - may have to compensate for the absences of two of their top seven scorers with a better defensive effort.
Theodore, who turned away 30 shots Sunday and is 4-1-1 with a 2.35 goals-against average since the beginning of February, may be the logical choice to start Tuesday against his former team. He made 38 saves in a 4-3 win at Colorado on Feb. 3.
However, Minnesota's struggling starter, Niklas Backstrom, is 16-4-2 with a 2.29 GAA in 22 career starts in this matchup and wouldn't mind ending a personal three-game skid before the team heads on a four-game trip that includes key stops at Nashville and Dallas beginning Thursday.
Backstrom made 23 saves in the last meeting with Colorado - a 3-2 Wild home win Feb. 9 that prevented the Avs from winning three straight in St. Paul.
While Minnesota tries to avoid a season high-tying third straight defeat at Xcel Energy Center, Colorado (26-31-8) is looking to end a five-game overall skid.
The Avs, losers of 15 of 16, fell to conference-worst Edmonton 5-1 on Saturday. Colorado is just six points in front of the Oilers.
"It's horrible. Not a whole lot of positives going on right now," said forward David Jones, who is tied with Milan Hejduk with a team-best four goals versus Minnesota this season. "We're trying to dig and work hard. Hopefully that can turn things around. It's not a positive place right now and it's not fun when you're losing the way we are."
Coach Joe Sacco has juggled the lines, including playing top centers Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny alongside each other at times, but has been unsuccessful at helping the club generate more offense. Colorado has found the back of the net eight times during its losing streak and is averaging 1.7 goals during its 2-15-2 slide.
The Avs' goaltending has been just as inefficient with a league-worst 4.05 GAA in that stretch. Peter Budaj has yielded three or more goals in each of his last six starts, while newcomer Brian Elliott is 0-3-1 with a 3.94 GAA since being acquired last month from Ottawa in a goaltender swap for Craig Anderson.
Budaj made 28 saves in a 7-4 home win over Minnesota on Nov. 27, then stopped all 25 shots he saw after replacing Anderson in two of the last four meetings. The Wild won three of those matchups.
Ten of the last 14 meetings between the Northwest Division rivals have been decided by one goal.