After a slow start, Colorado is looking to move up the Central Divison standings

Is Nathan MacKinnon's breakout game against San Jose enough to jumpstart Colorado's playoff hopes? AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Hot or not

MacKinnonNathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
MacKinnon snapped a 14-game goal drought in style Monday night, netting a hat trick in the Avs' 6-3 win over the San Jose Sharks.

LundqvistHenrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Lundqvist allowed five goals on 30 shots in the Rangers' 5-3 loss to the Nashville Predators, his fourth loss in his past five starts.

Can the Avalanche come back to life and make the playoffs?

Pierre LeBrun@Real_ESPNLeBrun: Put your hand up if you're willing to admit you buried the Avs earlier this season. I know I did, but here they are just four points behind the Nashville Predators for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference after a 6-3 win over the San Jose Sharks moved Colorado to 9-3-1 in December. I mean, did anyone really see this coming? MacKinnon had the hat trick Monday night as the Avs went 4-for-6 on the power play, an area of improvement this season. The Avs are 10th in the league on the PP after placing a dismal 29th a year ago. Meanwhile, MacKinnon leads the team in scoring with 33 points, and is on pace for 73 on the season after slumping to just 38 points in 64 games last season as a second-year player. His 13 goals also have him on pace for 29 on the season, which would eclipse his career high of 24, set two years ago as a rookie. What do you think, guys? Can MacKinnon and the Avs stay in the race?

Scott Burnside@ESPN_Burnside: My hand is up, Pierre, still raised but with maybe a little bend in it now. Last night is a good example of what lies ahead for the Avs as they try to stay in the hunt. As they were thumping San Jose on the road (seems everyone beats San Jose in the Shark Tank), Nashville was whipping a slumping New York Rangers team 5-3, and the Minnesota Wild clipped the Detroit Red Wings, 3-1. Ah, life in the Central Division. For the Avs to make it to the postseason, they'll likely have to dislodge one of Nashville, Chicago or Minnesota (figuring the St. Louis Blues, with a 10-point cushion on Colorado, and the runaway West leaders the Dallas Stars, are safe). Which of those three teams is most vulnerable? Perhaps Nashville, perhaps although they've started to turn up the offense of late. Chicago? Barring injury, no way. Minnesota? If Devan Dubnyk stays healthy -- he was a surprise starter Monday and got the win -- no way. In short, it's been an inspired run by the Avs -- who got the win in the second of back-to-back outings, with backup Calvin Pickard in net -- but I don't see it ending up with a trip to the playoffs.

Craig Custance@CraigCustance: The Avs are definitely improved over last season, but I'm with Scott. The degree of difficulty for them to make the playoffs in the Central after a slow start is too high to allow us to make any bold proclamations regarding the Avalanche. That said, I believe the Predators can be caught. Nashville earned a nice win over the Rangers, but there's a lot of season left for the Avs to make up four points on the Preds. The interesting thing to me will be what kind of backlash comes from Colorado coach Patrick Roy and the rest of the team if they finish with more points than the second- or third-place team in the Pacific Division and still miss the playoffs. That's the situation as it stands right now. Colorado would have a legitimate gripe, and it might be the kind of scenario that would force the league to take a hard look at the current playoff format.

Joe McDonald@ESPNJoeyMac: Talk about snapping a goal drought with authority. That's exactly what MacKinnon's second career hat trick did. Maybe now the goals will start to come in bunches for MacKinnon and he can help keep Colorado on the upswing. But you have to keep the puck out of the net first and foremost, and that will be a challenge for the Avalanche with Reto Berra sidelined with an ankle injury. Pickard, who was called up from the AHL, made 35 saves in his first NHL start of the season for Colorado. As a hockey fan, I would love to see the Avalanche earn a postseason berth so Jarome Iginla can play in the Stanley Cup playoffs again, but I don't see it happening for Colorado in such a tough division.

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