SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – San Jose coach Peter DeBoer talks about Logan Couture as playing at another level at this time of the year. Couture proved his coach right once again.
Couture scored his NHL-leading 16th go-ahead goal six minutes into the third period and the Sharks improved their chances for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night.
“It was a big power play,” Couture said. “I think we moved the puck around OK on the first one we had. The second one, just a great play by (Kevin) Labanc to find me. (Goalie Jonathan) Bernier was out of the net. Actually, the puck hopped on my stick. I wasn’t trying to shoot it along the ice. I got a little lucky.”
Justin Braun, Tomas Hertl and Joonas Donskoi also scored for the Sharks, who snapped a four-game losing streak and kept their one-point lead over the Anaheim Ducks for second-place in the Pacific Division.
“That’s not an easy game for us under the circumstances and some of the guys out,” DeBoer said. “I thought we dug deep and found a way to win an important game at an important time of year.”
Mikko Rantanen and Blake Comeau scored for the Avalanche, who missed an opportunity to increase their lead over the St. Louis Blues for a playoff spot.
Martin Jones stopped 23 shots for the Sharks. Bernier saved 32 for the Avalanche.
Less than three minutes into the first period, Braun scored on a slap shot from just inside the blue line that deflected off the arm or stick of a Colorado defender, giving Bernier no chance to adjust.
“That was huge. We needed that just to kind of put those other teams in the rear view a little bit,” Braun said. “If we hold onto second here on Saturday and go from there, get home ice in the first round. It would be huge.”
The Avalanche tied the score with a power-play goal at 15:17. Jones blocked the first two shots but could not control them. The second bounced free toward the side, and Rantanen was able to get it by a diving Jones.
Tyson Barrie earned an assist on the play, giving him a career-best 43. His 56 points match Rob Blake for most by an Avalanche defenseman in the past 16 years.
Colorado has scored on the power play in each of its last four games and is 6 of 11 during that span. It also has allowed a power-play goal in each of the past five games.
Couture scored on a power play 77 seconds after the Avalanche tied the game. Labanc recorded the first assist with a nice crossing pass.
The Blues will enter Saturday’s game in Denver either up a point or down a point, meaning the final game of the regular season will determine which team goes to the playoffs and which team goes home.
“We’ll have to take advantage of home ice. This is Game 7 for us,” said Mark Barberio, who returned to action after a long absence. “These are the moments we play for: a chance to make the playoffs.”
Donskoi scored midway through the final period to make it 3-1. Dylan DeMelo took a shot that Bernier stopped, but Donsoi took it away and put it in the net before Bernier could cover.
Two minutes later, Comeau redirected a shot by David Warsofsky to make it 3-2.
Hertl scored an empty-net goal in the final two seconds.
“It comes down to one game. It’s going to be a fun one,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “We’ll have to earn every inch of the ice.”
NOTES: Colorado C Carl Soderberg played in his 399th NHL game. … Couture has points in three of his last four games. … Sharks F Evander Kane missed his second straight game as a result of an upper-body injury sustained last Saturday in Las Vegas.
Avalanche: Host St. Louis on Saturday in the regular-season finale.
Sharks: Host Minnesota on Saturday in the regular-season finale.
By RICK EYMER, Associated Press
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