A three-game losing streak has delayed the Minnesota Wild from clinching the final Western Conference playoff spot, and while they might not need to win to get in, they know what the results will be if they allow this form to carry into the postseason.
The Wild get a chance to right that against strong competition while also earning the playoff berth Tuesday night against the visiting Sharks, who are chasing two teams in the Pacific Division with a franchise-record road win total on the line.
After Sunday's 5-1 loss in Winnipeg, the Wild (38-31-11) have been limited to five goals in the skid.
"We're going get throttled (in the playoffs) if we're going to play like this," goaltender Devan Dubnyk told the team's official website. "I'm not worried about it - I don't think we are - but we know that's not even going to come close come playoff time.
"We don't want to be sliding in. We got lucky the last couple of nights, and we have two games to get on track here and get going, and I'm sure that's what we'll do."
They're five points up on ninth-place Colorado with two games remaining while the Avalanche have three. Other than a victory, Minnesota can secure its fourth straight trip to the postseason if Colorado loses to Nashville in regulation Tuesday.
The Wild also get in with an overtime or shootout loss and an Avalanche defeat of any kind.
"It's disappointing we didn't play harder with a chance to seal it up here, but you can't get down at this point of the year," defenseman Ryan Suter said. "We're sitting in a good spot still, and we just have to get it going the last two games."
That figures to require stronger starts. Minnesota has been outshot 35-19 in the first period of the last three, which has amounted to 60 minutes of scoreless hockey for the Wild.
"I wish I knew, but we have to play way better, and we have to be way more focused," said interim coach John Torchetti, whose team closes the season Saturday at home against Calgary. "We have 20 players, and we need all 20 to play the game."
These teams have split two games in San Jose this season, but that's part of a 7-2-1 span in the series for the Sharks. The latest was a 4-3 win Jan. 23 behind a goal and two assists from Joe Pavelski, who has six goals and eight assists in his last nine matchups.
Any chance San Jose has of tracking down Anaheim or Los Angeles in the Pacific will likely require it to win its last three games. The Sharks (44-29-6) are playing their final road contest having matched a team mark with 27 wins away from home, set in 2007-08.
They got there with Saturday's 3-2 shootout victory at Nashville, their third win in four games. Tomas Hertl scored twice in the third to bring San Jose back from two goals down and move them a point ahead of Washington for the NHL lead on the road with 57.
"It was a big win," coach Peter DeBoer told the team's official website. "We've been good on the road all year. I think we're taking some pride in wanting to finish with the best road record in the league.
" ... It would have been easy to kind of chalk it up to one of those nights, and we didn't. We hung in there, and the third period was our best."
James Reimer faced the Predators and is expected to start Tuesday. He's gone 3-5-0 in his last eight starts despite a 2.02 goals-against average. He's 2-1-0 with a 1.38 GAA in four games against the Wild.
Dubnyk has been in goal for Minnesota's whole losing streak with a 3.39 GAA. He's posted a 3.72 mark over a 1-5-2 span against San Jose.