The Minnesota Wild are on track to reach the playoffs for the second straight season and rookie goaltender Darcy Kuemper is among the driving forces. Kuemper is expected to make his ninth straight start when Minnesota visits the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday. Kuemper is 5-2-1 during that span - including a 4-2 victory over NHL-leading Anaheim - as Niklas Backstrom continues to recover from an abdominal injury and Josh Harding battles multiple sclerosis.Third-place Colorado, which leads Minnesota by seven points in the Central Division, continues to be the surprise of the NHL with six wins in its last eight games - a stretch that began with a 4-2 victory at Minnesota on Jan. 11. The Avalanche, which are coming off a 4-3 victory at Dallas on Monday, are also receiving solid goaltending. Semyon Varlamov has matched a season high with 26 victories while eighth in the NHL in save percentage .925, and has spearheaded a much-improved defense. TV: 9 p.m. ET, FSN North (Minnesota), Altitude (Colorado)ABOUT THE WILD (29-20-6): Minnesota is 8-3-1 in January and the surge has moved it four points clear of Phoenix for a wild card playoff spot. The Wild have done it mostly without the services of left wing Zach Parise, who recorded a goal and two assists in his third contest back from a 14-game absence due to a broken left foot. Defenseman Ryan Suter, who along with Parise signed a 13-year, $98 million contract prior to the 2012-13 season, leads the league in ice time at 29:38.ABOUT THE AVALANCHE (33-14-5): Colorado features six stars who have recorded at least 12 goals - led by Ryan O'Reilly's 19 - and its depth was evident when four players scored and five others provided the assists against Dallas. Alex Tanguay, the last link to the Avalanche's 2001 Stanley Cup championship team, scored in his second game back after missing 36 contests with knee and hip injuries. He is another threat who will also provide key leadership down the stretch for a young and talented front line. "With all those guys, we've got great potential and buildup to be good for four or five years. Maybe more,'' the 34-year-old told the Denver Post.OVERTIME1. Minnesota snapped a string of 24 consecutive power plays without scoring on C Mikael Granlund's goal Tuesday.2. The road team has won five of the last six meetings while the Wild have claimed seven of their last nine games in Colorado.3. This is the final meeting of the season as Colorado won three of the first four encounters, which each team recording a victory in a shootout.PREDICTION: Wild 3, Avalanche 2