DENVER - Colorado Avalanche forward Ian Laperriere would love to recite the party line. He’d love to tell you he’s not concerned about what the other teams in the Western Conference are doing during the NHL’s stretch run. He’d love to tell you all that matters is how his team plays. But he can’t. “It’s human nature to look at the standings every night, who won, who lose,” Laperriere said. “If any of those guys (on other teams) say they’re not watching us, they’re lying. Everybody’s watching everybody right now.” With three weeks left in the season, the Western Conference playoff race looks tighter than the 2000 Bush-Gore battle for Florida. Detroit (leading the conference with 105 points) and Dallas (99 points) seem to have an inside track on the top two spots. But after Nashville (92 points), there are seven teams, including Colorado, that are within five points of each other. And only five of those will make the playoffs. “It’s awfully tight,” Colorado forward Brad May said. “There’s a lot of games every night that you can watch that have a direct impact on where you sit in the standings.” Especially in Colorado’s Northwest Division. The Avalanche and Flames are tied for the division lead with 86 points. But Edmonton and Vancouver are both just two points behind. And because the three division champions will take the top three seeds in the Western Conference playoffs, a team can go from holding the No. 3 seed to out of the playoffs in less than a week. Consider: With a victory tonight over Anaheim, Colorado would be in sole possession of first place in the division. But if the Avalanche loses tonight and loses again Friday at Calgary — perfectly within the realm of possibility — a reasonable scenario exists in which Colorado would be in ninth place, and on the outside of the playoff picture, by Saturday night. Laperriere said he “never” has seen such a hotly contested race. “And I’ve been watching hockey for a long time,” he said. “When I first came into the league, you knew by Christmas who was in, who was out. Now at least 10, 11 teams have a chance to make it on each side.” Much to the delight of the NHL. Of all the changes made in the post-lockout climate, creating parity with a salary cap has been one of the biggest successes. It has made for a more meaningful regular season — one in which scoreboard watching has started much earlier. “This race has gone on probably a lot longer than any year,” Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. “And the number of teams that are in it makes it even more exciting.” Colorado, which used to be able to rest key players in the final days of the regular season, needs to take advantage of its upcoming schedule — six of its next seven games are at the Pepsi Center. But Colorado’s chances of winning a division title — or even making the postseason — likely will hinge on its final three games. All are on the road against division rivals — Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton. “It’s going to come right down to the wire,” Quenneville said. “Nobody’s in cruising mode right now.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0365 or firstname.lastname@example.org AVALANCHE REMAINING SCHEDULE TONIGHT vs. Anaheim 7 p.m. FRIDAY at Calgary 7:30 p.m. APRIL 3 vs. Chicago 7 p.m. APRIL 5 vs. San Jose 7 p.m. APRIL 8 vs. St. Louis noon APRIL 9 vs. Minnesota 7 p.m. APRIL 11 vs. Phoenix 7 p.m. APRIL 13 at Calgary 7 p.m. APRIL 15 at Vancouver 8 p.m. APRIL 17 at Edmonton 7 p.m. TODAY Colorado at Anaheim, 7 p.m., OLN, 740/950 AM
Colorado Springs Gazette has disabled the comments for this article.