DENVER (AP) — Nathan MacKinnon scored his first goal in 10 games, Jonathan Bernier stopped 32 shots and the Colorado Avalanche earned the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with a 5-2 win over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night.
Defensemen Samuel Girard and Tyson Barrie scored, while captain Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Nieto added empty-netters for the Avalanche, who won the West’s second wild card and head to the postseason for the first time since 2013-14. They will face top-seeded Nashville in the opening round a season after recording a league-low 48 points.
Colorado improved to 28-11-2 on home ice this season in front of a raucous crowd, matching a franchise record for wins that was set in 2000-01, when the team hoisted the Stanley Cup.
Game No. 82 for these two boiled down to a winner-take-all scenario. Although, there was one caveat — the Avalanche couldn’t allow the game to go to overtime since the Blues held the tiebreaker. St. Louis pulled out all the stops late in the third: Taking out goalie Jake Allen with around 4:35 remaining. Landeskog and Nieto sealed the win with empty-net tallies.
Colorado finished with 95 points to become first NHL team to post a 40-point gain over an 82-game season since the Pittsburgh Penguins jumped 47 from 2005-06 (58) to 2006-07 (105).
Jaden Schwartz had a power-play goal and Brayden Schenn scored with 38.4 seconds remaining for the Blues, who saw their playoff appearance streak halted at six straight seasons.
Leading 2-1 late in the third, MacKinnon beat Allen with a shot over the goaltender’s shoulder. MacKinnon had been held without a goal since March 18 when he had two against Detroit. He finished with 97 points — the most by an Avalanche player since Joe Sakic had 100 in 2006-07.
Barrie gave Colorado a 2-0 lead in the second on a goal from the blue line that led to a challenge by St. Louis, which felt the puck left the zone. The officials took a long look before ruling it a good goal and determined “there were no definitive replays which showed that the puck left the attacking zone,” according to NHL situation room.
Soon after, Schwartz answered when he tipped in a shot on a power play.
The Blues arrived in town late following a 4-1 win in Chicago on Friday night. They sent Allen to the Mile High City early so he would be better rested for the big game. Allen made one diving save after another to keep things close.
Girard scored his first goal since Feb. 22 on a slap shot through traffic with 46 seconds left in the first period to give the Avs a 1-0 advantage.
St. Louis was dealt a blow midway through the first period when leading goal-scorer Vladimir Tarasenko left with an upper-body injury. He didn’t return.
The game definitely had a Game 7 feel. It made sleeping the night before a bit restless, Barrie said.
The last time two teams met in their final game of the season while contending for the last available playoff spot in the conference was 2010. In that contest, Philadelphia beat the New York Rangers in a shootout.
NOTES: There was a moment of silence to honor the people who were killed in a bus crash involving a junior hockey team in western Canada. … Blues D Alex Pietrangelo played in his 617th career NHL game. He surpassed Bob Plager for second on the team’s all-time list for defensemen. … RW Chris Thorburn suited up in his 800th career game. … Colorado was without D Erik Johnson and G Semyon Varlamov, who are both sidelined by knee injuries.
Avalanche: Face Nashville in the first round of the playoffs. The Avs were 0-3-1 against the Predators this season.
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