The NHL All-Star break has come and gone, and the Colorado Avalanche have found themselves in a highly coveted playoff position. Having played the second-most games in the conference, the Avs face a challenging fight for the Wild Card down the stretch with a few teams who are as deserving of a playoff spot as any. In order to maintain a playoff position and continue beating the NHL’s best teams, it is important the Avalanche refocus and properly prepare themselves for battle for the remainder of the season. If not, they could be one of the several teams in the Western Conference that are worthy of a playoff spot, but fall short.

Going into the All-Star Weekend, there was a small sense of distraction surrounding the team. Between goaltender Semyon Varlamov’s civil suit and the excitement of Matt Duchene’s first All-Star appearance in five seasons, the Avalanche had too much external influence affecting the dressing room. Moving defenseman in and out of the lineup due to injuries, scratches and call-ups provided some internal distraction as well.

Luckily for the Avalanche, they were able to overcome all of the disruption and head into the break winning five out of their last six. Colorado won four of those five games by only one goal and three of them were by a score of 2-1. While the lack of scoring is a bit worrisome, their ability to win the close games has helped make them a legitimate threat in the Western Conference.

“Those are the games you have to win in the playoffs and when it comes crunch time. So for us it’s a matter of taking the positive and making sure that we know that, as a team, we were winning those close games.” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said Tuesday morning. “Earlier in the season we found ways to lose those hockey games and we talked about how important it is to be able to win those close games, one-nothing, two-one, two-nothing.”

When the games begin to have more implications and they become more intense, the team chemistry is as important as ever.  The close finishes in tight games have helped the team’s confidence and camaraderie. “Especially this time of year, everybody is going to start playing tighter and harder defensively. It will definitely bond us,” Landeskog said. “Coming down the stretch, close games, third periods, there is no stress. There is no sense of, we have to score two or three goals here to win this game. We are fine with taking it to overtime and winning it there. I think that is a sign of a maturing team.”

The Avalanche have a difficult path ahead as they move towards the final 30 games of the year. The distractions are now behind them and a five-day break from playing games has given some time to heal and rest. Gabe Landeskog believes his team is ready to take on the rest of the year:

“We’ve got a third of the season left and it’s important we get off to a good start and pick up right where we left off before the break. I think everybody feels rested and recharged and ready to go.”

Of the 30 games remaining for the Avalanche this season, 16 will be at home. Since head coach Patrick Roy took the reins of the team in 2013, Colorado has had a winning record in the last 30 games of the season.

In the 2013-14 campaign, the magical run the Avs put together at the end of the season, combined with the collapse of the Blues, helped Colorado capture their first division title since 2002-03. The final 30 games of that season finished with an impressive 19-8-3 record before Colorado saw a first round exit to the Minnesota Wild. Last season, the 2014-15 year, the Avalanche had a 16-13-1 record in the final 30. Not as impressive, but a winning record nonetheless.

Last year the Winnipeg Jets were the eighth and final team to make the Western Conference playoffs and they ended the season with 99 points. With 30 games remaining in their schedule last season, the Jets were at 61 points, four greater than where the Avs currently sit. The Avalanche will have to be around 20-8-2 in this final group of games to achieve the 99 point mark. Not an impossible feat, but one that will certainly take focus and consistently sharp play.

The upcoming stretch will be the most important portion of Colorado’s year. After having scratched and clawed their way back to contention, it is now time for the Avalanche to elevate their intensity and focus as if every game from here on out is a playoff game. There are a handful of teams behind them in the standings, hoping to take their playoff spot. The proper focus and mentality will be a key factor between success and failure.

The Avalanche begin a four-game homestand Tuesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks. The next three games for Colorado are all against Central Division teams, an area of strength this season for the Avalanche. Colorado has gone 12-3-1 in their games against the Central Division and have 12 still to go. The Central Division record has been and very well could continue to be the biggest factor in them reaching a playoff spot once all is said and done.