Avs host Wild in Northwest Division battle

A key battle in the Western Conference playoff race is on tap tonight in Denver, as the sliding Colorado Avalanche host the Minnesota Wild at the Pepsi Center.

Despite posting just four wins in their last 20 games (4-12-4), the Wild enter tonight holding onto the eighth and final postseason berth in the West with 55 points. Colorado, which has been dealt three straight regulation losses, is just one point behind the Wild in both the conference and Northwest Division standings. The Avs are also tied with Dallas for the conference's ninth seed.

The Avalanche have dropped each of their last three trips to the ice by identical 3-2 scores and the latest setback came Tuesday night in Edmonton. Taylor Hall notched the game-winner early in the third period for the Oilers, as Colorado lost its first game following the All-Star break.

Peter Mueller and Gabriel Landeskog scored for the Avalanche, while Semyon Varlamov stopped 20-of-23 shots to drop his record to 14-16-1 on the season.

"It got better as the game went on; but I guess it was too little, too late," Landeskog said of the Avs, who trailed by a 2-0 score after the first period.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere is expected to get the start in net tonight and the veteran netminder has been far superior to Varlamov this season. Giguere is 12-8-1 with a 2.15 goals-against average and .921 save percentage this year compared to Varlamov's 3.00 GAA and .898 save percentage.

Giguere is 9-11-3 with two ties in his career against Minnesota and he dropped a 3-2 decision to the visiting Wild in Colorado's final game before the break on Jan. 24.

The Wild have taken two of three from Colorado this year and have won five of six overall in the series. Minnesota has also claimed three straight and six of its last seven in the Mile High City.

Tonight marks the start of a four-game homestand for the Avs, who are 14-12-0 as the host this year. Minnesota is beginning a three-game road trip this evening and is 11-12-4 as the guest.

Minnesota scored the first three goals Tuesday against visiting Nashville, but still wound up losing a 5-4 regulation decision. The Wild also held a 4-1 lead early in the third period, but the Predators scored four unanswered and Mike Fisher won it for Nashville with just 21 seconds left in regulation.

With 20.8 seconds left in regulation, Fisher grabbed an errant pass near the boards by the right circle and flicked a shot towards the net that slipped through Josh Harding's pads for the game-winner.

"It was an awful goal, probably one of the worst I've given up in my life," said Harding. "No excuses. That one's on me."

Harding stopped 25-of-30 shots in the loss, while Dany Heatley led the offense with two goals and an assist. Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak also netted goals for Minnesota.

On the injury front, star forward Matt Duchene (knee) is out indefinitely for Colorado. Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu is still sidelined with a separated shoulder, but is nearing a return, as is fellow forward Guillaume Latendresse, who has been out with a concussion since Dec. 14. Koivu has missed the last five games after injuring his left shoulder in St. Louis on Jan. 14.