Ten days ago, the Colorado Avalanche were coming off their fourth loss in five games and hovering near a wild-card slot in the Western Conference.
The road has gotten better for Colorado -- because of the road.
The Avalanche head home after sweeping through four games at Eastern Conference venues and will go for their sixth straight win overall when they host the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night in Denver.
Colorado (40-22-6, 86 points) sits in third place in the Central Division, three points behind Dallas but with two games in hand on the Stars. The Avalanche have turned things around and have a realistic shot at securing the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with a strong showing in their final 14 games.
Colorado overcame the loss of top-line forward Artturi Lehkonen to beat Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Detroit. Lehkonen suffered a broken finger that required surgery at the Canadiens on March 13.
The Avalanche haven't slowed down, and it is due in large part to their top players. Nathan MacKinnon has at least one point in his last eight games and has eight goals and nine assists in March. Cale Makar has 16 points in his last eight games and Mikko Rantanen has a four-game goal streak and has a team-leading 46 this season.
"Maybe it is helping us to be together on the road," goaltender Alexandar Georgiev said after Saturday's 5-1 win at the Red Wings. "We're playing good and finding ways to keep the puck in the offensive zone."
Colorado has been better on the road than at home, where it is 18-11-5 and plays five of its next seven games. Monday will be the third and final game this season against Chicago, with both teams having won at home.
The Blackhawks (24-39-6, 54 points) won the last meeting 3-2 on Jan. 12, but they've since been eliminated from the postseason for the third straight year. Chicago is 3-7-1 in its last 11 games and is already planning for next season.
The Blackhawks traded Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers and the other star from their three Stanley Cup title teams, Jonathan Toews, is considering retirement after dealing with long COVID and chronic immune response syndrome.
Toews, who missed all of 2020-21 with the illness, has 14 goals and 14 assists in 46 games this year. He hasn't played since Jan. 28.
"It has been really challenging to play through these symptoms," Toews said in a statement released by the team. "In the last few weeks, it has reached the point where I had no choice but to step back and concentrate on getting healthy."
Despite the injuries and deadline trades, Chicago has been competitive. The Blackhawks won two in a row before losing 4-2 at Arizona on Saturday night. The line of Joey Anderson, Boris Katchouk and Jujhar Khaira played well in a 2-1 win at Nashville on Thursday night.
"We go out there and keep it simple, keep playing in front of us and makes it really easy to read each other," Anderson said. "And obviously we all have a focus on being good defensively, which helps."
--Field Level Media