The Colorado Avalanche are trying to become the third team in eight years to pull off back-to-back Stanley Cup titles.
The Pittsburgh Penguins did just that in 2016-17 and Colorado is on a mission to do the same, having won six straight and looking as determined as it did last season, when it wonits first Cup since 2001.
The Avalanche (41-22-6, 88 points) will go for their seventh straight win when they host the reeling Penguins on Wednesday night in Denver.
Pittsburgh won the first game, 2-1 in overtime, at home on Feb. 7. In that game, Colorado defenseman Cale Makar suffered a concussion after taking a shot to the head from Penguins forward Jeff Carter.
Pittsburgh (34-26-10, 78 points) has lost four in a row and dropped out of the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have reached the playoffs 16 straight seasons, winning three championships in that span, but are in danger of not extending the streak to 17 straight.
"The playoffs have started for us already, it feels like kind of," Pittsburgh forward Jake Guentzel said after a 2-1 loss to Ottawa on Monday night. "So we've just got to keep going. We've got to worry about ourselves and make sure we get as many points as we can. Not look at other teams."
Injuries to the defensive corps have hurt the Penguins. They were without three of their top blue-liners against the Senators. Jeff Petry and Jan Rutta have missed two straight games, and Marcus Pettersson suffered a lower-body injury against the New York Rangers on Saturday and was placed on long-term injured reserve Monday.
Pittsburgh still has star power -- Sidney Crosby leads the team with 83 points -- but it is an aging group that will face a faster and younger Colorado team.
The Avalanche are dealing with injuries, too, but have been winning nonetheless. Makar sat out Monday's 5-0 win over Chicago with an undisclosed injury and Evan Rodrigues, who has been skating on the top line, entered concussion protocol after getting checked hard into the boards during Monday's second period.
Coach Jared Bednar said Monday that Makar is day-to-day but he didn't practice on Tuesday, so his availability for Wednesday is questionable.
Colorado has overcome injuries to stay in the hunt for the top seed in the Western Conference in part because role players are stepping up. Lately it has been Denis Malgin, who was acquired from Toronto in December.
Malgin had the second two-goal game of his career against the Blackhawks and now has 10 goals on the season. He has scored eight of his goals since coming to the Avalanche and has five in March. He needs one more goal to match his career high for goals in a season.
"(I'm) really happy for him," goaltender Alexandar Georgiev said. "He got a big opportunity and he makes great plays. Such a skilled player and plays smart and happy he gets rewarded for that."
The Avalanche announced a three-year contract extension for Bednar Monday afternoon, which will take him through the 2026-27 season.
--Field Level Media