When the Colorado Avalanche rolled into the Montreal three weeks ago, they were riding a league-high 10-game winning streak and had gone from a postseason afterthought into a playoff spot.
The Canadiens stopped the streaking Avalanche with a 4-2 victory Jan. 23, and that started a 3-5-1 stretch for Colorado that left it outside of wild-card position in the Western Conference.
The Avalanche are looking for a little payback -- and momentum -- when they host Montreal on Wednesday night in search of their 10th straight victory at the Pepsi Center.
Colorado will be without All-Star and leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for the seventh straight game, which has had an impact on Colorado's offense. Before a 5-4 victory at Buffalo on Sunday, the Avalanche had scored five goals in their previous four games.
The offense broke out against the Sabres and allowed Colorado to improve to 3-3-0 since MacKinnon went out with a left shoulder injury two weeks ago. The original timeline was MacKinnon would miss 2-to-4 weeks, so he could return soon, depending on how his injury is responding to treatment.
He was on the ice for practice Tuesday in a non-contact jersey but coach Jared Bednar ruled him out of the Montreal game. He wouldn't say if MacKinnon would play Friday at Winnipeg or Sunday at home against Edmonton.
"He's coming along," Bednar told The Denver Post on Tuesday afternoon.
The Avalanche (30-21-4) are also without forwards Sven Andrighetto (leg), Blake Comeau (lower-body injury) and defenseman Mark Barberio (lower body).
The Canadiens (22-26-7) have a bigger climb if they want to reach the playoffs. They need to climb ahead of six teams in the Eastern Conference and are 2-4-1 since defeating the Avalanche.
The shrinking playoff possibilities means Montreal will likely be a seller before the Feb. 26 trading deadline. Wednesday's game is the first on this four-game road trip, and the focus will be on hockey, not who will be with the team in two weeks.
"From my end of it, we're all pros," Canadiens coach Claude Julien told the Montreal Gazette after practice Monday when asked about the trade-deadline distraction. "Whether you're coaching, whether you're a player, there's times where that kind of comes along the way. So you have to be able to manage it in a way where you focus on what you can control. As far as a player is concerned, he's got to focus on controlling his game and doing everything he can because the other part he has absolutely no control on."
Montreal has struggled on the road this season with an 8-16-1 mark away from home. The team got a boost with Philip Danault on the trip. He has not played since taking a puck to the head in a Jan. 13 game against Boston. He practiced Monday but has not been cleared to play yet.
"I think it's encouraging for him," Julien told the Montreal Gazette about Danault practicing with his teammates. "Anybody who goes through what he went through, it can be pretty demoralizing. But he's had a great attitude, he's worked hard. He's been skating for a week and gotten better to the point where they're allowing him to practice now."