Colorado Avalanche advance in must win game

They knew it was not going to be easy. Down by one point in the standings, and needing a win in regulation, the biggest turn-around in the NHL this season was complete with the Colorado Avalanche defeating the St. Louis Blues 5-2 Saturday night.

With less than a week remaining, the Blues controlled their own destiny. However, a 4-3 loss to Chicago on home ice, and winning against Chicago at the United Center, put the Blues in the driver’s seat. All they needed was one point against Colorado, but the Avalanche shut down the Blues on home ice.

Open the scoring

The scoring was opened late in the first. Samuel Girard put in his fourth goal of the season with 46 seconds left in the first. Blues goaltender Jake Allen was superb until that point in the first, but a perfect screen kept the Blues much-maligned starter from seeing the puck. After one, Colorado held the slimmest of leads.

In the second, Colorado opened their lead to two. Tyson Barrie buried his 14th of the year at the 6:11 mark. Miko Rantanen picked up his 55th assist and Gabriel Landeskog his 36th. This goal would be under review for well over five minutes before being determined onside.

A devastating injury and resiliency

The Blues would have to mount a comeback and do so without their leading scorer. Vladimir Tarasenko left the game just before the first goal at the end of the opening period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. He left the Pepsi Center in a sling and according to Blues' head coach Mike Yeo, his injury is “significant.”

The Blues would break through in the second. After hitting two posts in a matter of two minutes, Mark Barberio took an interference penalty. With a powerplay that was near the bottom of the league all season, Jaden Schwartz got the Blues on the board with his 24th goal of the season. Alex Pietrangelo picked up assist number 39 and Brayden Schenn got helper number 42.

The game would not stay 2-1 for very long. Nathan MacKinnon would boost his Hart Trophy resume with his 39th goal of the year. The lone assist went to Landeskog, his 37th of the season, at the 16:58 mark of the middle period. From there, Colorado had the game all but sewn up, and had the playoff spot within their grasp.

The last gasp

The Blues pulled Allen with 4:35 left in the game. Landeskog scored his 25th of the year into the empty net with 3:23 left to give Colorado a three-goal cushion. It was Landeskog’s third point of the night. Getting the assist, and his second point of the game was MacKinnon, who finished the year with 97 points, the most for an Avalanche player since Joe Sakic in 2006/07.

Brayden Schenn notched his 28th of the year at 19:22 from Jaden Schwartz (35) and Patrik Berglund (9). It would be too little, too late for St. Louis. The Blues went 1-4-1 in their final six games and missed the postseason for the first time in seven years.

Matt Nieto rounded out the scoring with his 15th of the year into an empty net. Carl Soderberg got his 21st assist of the season for Colorado. The Avs have now qualified as the eighth seed in the West and will face off against Central Division foe, and division winner, the Nashville Predators.

Jake Allen picked up the loss for the Blues. His record fell to 27-25-3. He turned away 34 of 37 shots. Now he will have to face some critics in St. Louis, as will Mike Yeo, who made the choice to start the 28-year-old goaltender ahead of Carter Hutton, who finished second in GAA and Save % on the year. When Allen was asked about his performance:

I pulled my hamstring. I had to battle through it. Any other game, I probably would have went out. But it's a game we needed, needed to win ... I'm not leaving the game.

Jonathan Bernier got the victory for Colorado. With the season-ending injury to Semyon Varlamov, Bernier will be between the pipes for Colorado in the playoffs. He improved to 19-13-3 on the 2017/18 season.

Colorado outshot St. Louis 39-34 in the game. Jake Allen made several dazzling saves in the first half of the contest to keep the score as it was. The Avs also won the face-off battle defeating the Blues on the dot, winning 56% of the draws.

Both teams converted on a powerplay opportunity and the hits were about even, with Colorado holding the edge 30-29.

The Blues ultimately fall one-point shy of the postseason. They finish with a record of 44-32-6. They were the only team not to lose in a shootout. Colorado finished with 95 points and a record of 43-30-9.

The Avalanche will open the post-season against the Predators in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena on April 12 with a 9:30 PM EST puck drop.