Avs hit pressure-packed stretch with postseason potential, two remaining questions

Dec 3, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) relieves Colorado Avalanche goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) in the second period at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It’s go time.

The Stanley Cup playoffs remain the goal – and the prize.

The Colorado Avalanche have 52 days left in the regular season — 27 games still on the schedule — and one giant playoff berth staring them right in the face.

The Avs can absolutely grab one of the final two Wild Card spots in the Western Conference, but it’s going to be tough.

That 10-game winning streak is no longer at the top of anyone’s mind.

Colorado is 3-5-1 in its last nine games, an acceptable record given the brutal February schedule dished out by the NHL, but this team hasn’t been quite the same since winning its 10th in a row at Toronto on Jan. 22.

Let’s be honest, those 20 points saved the season — putting the team in position to strike — but sitting at 64 points right now in a crowded room with Dallas (70 points), San Jose (68), Calgary (66), Minnesota (66), Los Angeles (65) and Anaheim (65) makes it anything but comfortable.

It’s like a bad episode of “The Bachelor.”

Only a handful of playoff spots remain, and not everyone’s getting a rose.

Without boring you, this is what we know: Between the Sharks, Flames, Kings and Ducks, two of the four are virtually guaranteed playoff spots, because they play in the much weaker Pacific Division.

If you’re the Stars, Wild or Avs, it’s tough skating. Grab a Wild Card spot or you might be out of luck. Catching Nashville (75 points), Winnipeg (73) or St. Louis (71) is a possibility, but as everyone who even remotely follows the NHL knows, the Central Division is The Pit of Misery — Dilly, Dilly!

But the Avalanche have surprised us all season, so why stop at this point?

Right now, there’s one obvious question pertaining to this team — When does Nathan MacKinnon return? — but there are others, beginning in goal.

Jonathan Bernier or Semyon Varlamov? Semyon Varlamov or Jonathan Bernier? Who should be the team’s No. 1 goalie for the stretch run?

The eye test says Bernier.

He was the catalyst of the monster winning streak and has put up solid numbers with a record of 17-10-2, a save percentage of .916 and a GAA of 2.74. Varly isn’t far behind (13-11-2, .910, 2.90) from a statistical perspective, but ask any fan wearing a burgundy sweater and they’ll likely say Bernier has been the better goaltender.

Even with all that, it’s hard to ignore history.

Varlamov put this team on his back the last time it made the postseason – going an insane 41-14-6 in 2013-14 before the Avs lost a heartbreaking Game 7 to the Minnesota Wild – and playoff hockey hasn’t returned to Pepsi Center since.

The could end this April.

Or at least we can hope.

Outside of Mack’s health and the goaltender situation, the Avs have a handful of remaining questions, but also plenty of potential answers.

Mikko Rantanen is developing into an All-Star before our eyes.

Gabriel Landeskog is exactly what a team needs in a captain, both on and off the ice.

Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie are being rewarded for their patience.

Alexander Kerfoot, Carl Soderberg, Blake Comeau, J.T. Compher and Sven Andrighetto are blossoming at the right time.

And both Tyson Jost and Samuel Girard are barely scratching the surface on a salivating amount of untapped potential.

General manager Joe Sakic and his team of executives continue to be the talk of the NHL after fleecing Ottawa and Nashville in the Matt Duchene trade. Meanwhile, the mastery of head coach Jared Bednar is no longer a secret. Bednar may take the Avs from worst team in the league to the postseason in just 363 calendar days.

The remaining schedule is balanced. Fourteen at home, 13 on the road. Out of a possible 54 points up for grabs, the Avs will need to grab 31 of them to feel okay, 33 to feel good and 35 to feel great. If Colorado finishes with 99 points, they may have some problems, but the playoffs won’t be one.

It’s time for the Avalanche to snag another rose, with the Stanley Cup being the ultimate prize.

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