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Avalanche stumbling when it matters the most

The Colorado Avalanche were the surprise of the season, as the burst out to a great start behind the stellar play of Craig Anderson in net and a potent offense. We kept waiting for this supposedly overachieving team to crash back down to earth, yet all season long they’ve held onto a top spot in the West.

Except lately the Avs have started to falter. Colorado was in perfect position coming out of the Olympic break to challenge for a top three seed in the West and the Northwest division crown, yet’s been nothing but inconsistency and struggle in the five games since.

It’s what you would expect from a young team that despite it’s sudden surge this season is still finding its way after a couple of years of painful rebuilding. But what about this season? Is this is a team that is going to stumble on its way into the playoffs only to lose in the first round and exit? It would be a wholly disappointing end to a remarkable season, yet it certainly seems they could be headed that way.

The Avalanche are 3-4-0 in their last seven games, with all four losses against teams they are battling with for playoff positioning. Most alarming was the way in which the Avalanche fell apart in an extremely important home game against Vancouver, with the possibility of tying the Northwest division leading Canucks. Instead of hanging onto an early 4-1 lead, the Avs allowed five straight goals en route to a disastrous 6-4 loss.

“We got away from our game,” said Avs defender John-Michael Liles, who finished minus-2. “That’s ultimately what allowed them to get back in it. We need to cut down on turnovers. We were making our own chances and forcing them into some turnovers, but we got away from that.”

It’s certainly not time to push the panic button. The Avalanche will make the playoffs and they still have a good shot at challenging the Canucks for the top spot in the division. But with points at a premium and each game more important than the last, Colorado has not taken advantage of the opportunities they’ve been handed.

Yet it also seems as if Colorado is playing with fire. They are last in the NHL in shots per game, and 25th in shots allowed, yet somehow maintains a healthy goal differential. The team is relying heavily on the play of Craig Anderson and obviously has some of the most efficient scorers in the NHL to score like they have, but are we seeing what happens when the good fortune they’ve enjoyed starts to wan a bit?

There’s no doubt that the Avs can be a dangerous team in the playoffs, with solid goaltending and young, talented players up forward. But there’s also a good chance that either the goaltending or scoring will give way in the playoffs and I doubt one side can overcome the stumble of the other.