The Colorado Avalanche have been one of the NHL's feel-good stories, rising from the bottom of the Western Conference into playoff contention.
If the stumbling club slips any further down the standings, though, the Avs may have to wait another year to get back to the postseason.
Colorado hopes to quickly stop its slide during a three-game homestand that begins Wednesday night against the Anaheim Ducks, whose slim playoff hopes would be almost officially snuffed out with a loss.
The Avalanche (41-27-7) have fallen to eighth place in the West after going 1-4-1 in their last six games, including back-to-back losses at Phoenix and San Jose over the weekend.
Despite outshooting the Sharks 45-32 on Sunday, they lost 4-3, wasting two goals from newcomer Peter Mueller, who has seven goals and 10 assists in 12 games since coming over from Phoenix at the trade deadline.
"We came up a little short," coach Joe Sacco said. "I think if we play like we did (Sunday) down the stretch here, we'll be fine. That's how we have to play, with desperation.
"It's a word that's overused this time of year, but it's true. You could see our guys for the most part were desperate. We just have to keep battling."
Colorado is still in good position to return to the playoffs with a four-point lead and a game in hand on ninth-place Calgary. The Avs play five of their final seven at home, where they are 23-11-2, and they host the Flames on Friday.
The turnaround has been swift after Colorado finished with a West-worst 69 points last season, and one of the biggest reasons has been the arrival of goalie Craig Anderson.
Anderson, however, has gone 1-4-1 with a 4.12 goals-against average in his last six starts, and a heavy workload may be catching up to him. He has started a franchise-record 66 games -- more than double his previous career high -- including 29 of the last 30.
Anderson was pulled from a 5-2 loss at Anaheim on March 21 after allowing four goals on 19 shots, including Teemu Selanne's 600th career goal.
The Ducks (36-31-8) have won six of eight but remain a longshot to reach a fifth straight postseason considering they trail Colorado by nine points. Anaheim has won its last two games without top center Ryan Getzlaf (ankle), beating Dallas 3-1 on Monday night.
Rookie center Nick Bonino has helped fill in, scoring his first NHL goal against the Stars on an assist from Selanne. Bonino signed with the Ducks on March 21 following his junior season at Boston University.
"It's been incredible to play with Teemu and all of our veterans," Bonino said. "This wasn't what I thought would happen. I knew there was a chance I'd be up with (the Ducks), but it's been great to come here with these guys, to see how this season ends and then come to training camp ready to go."
Bonino's college teammate, rookie Brandon Yip, has 11 goals in 26 games with Colorado and may play for the first time since March 1 following a shoulder injury.
Anaheim played Monday without Jonas Hiller (back spasms), as backup Curtis McElhinney made 30 saves to improve to 3-0-0 with a 1.97 GAA in four appearances with Anaheim since being acquired from Calgary on March 3.
The Ducks are 6-1-0 in their last seven meetings with Colorado, scoring 15 goals in three straight wins in Denver.