DENVER (AP) – Gabriel Landeskog sat at his locker stall, his skates still laced and most of his gear still on.
The only thing missing was his jersey, which was given to a lucky fan.
Quick, get the captain a new one – the Colorado Avalanche are going to need it where they’re going.
Nathan MacKinnon scored his first goal in 10 games, Jonathan Bernier stopped 32 shots and the 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 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.
“It’s an unbelievable accomplishment,” MacKinnon said. “It’s got to be one of the best accomplishments in modern sports history.”
Landeskog already has a start on his playoff beard.
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 that sent the raucous crowd into full celebration mode.
“Credit to Colorado they’ve improved immensely over the last couple of years,” Allen said. “They played well again tonight.”
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).
Next up, rest. That’s Landeskog’s plan anyway – lay on the couch with his dog and watch the Masters on Sunday. Then, get ready for Nashville.
“If we play the way we played tonight, we have a good chance,” Bernier said.
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.
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. He even played through a tweaked hamstring he suffered in the game.
“Any other game I probably would have went out but this a game we needed to win,” Allen said.
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.
“He was very disappointed,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said.
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.
PHOTO GALLERY: Avalanche Clinch Playoff Spot In West With Win Over Blues
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.
“I’m not going to blame the season on a bad call,” Yeo said.
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. He was acquired by Colorado from Nashville in the three-team deal that sent Matt Duchene to Ottawa in November.
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.
“What a night,” Landeskog said.
NOTES: 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. … Colorado was without D Erik Johnson and G Semyon Varlamov, who are both sidelined by knee injuries. Varlamov won’t have a chance to play in the first round, coach Jared Bednar said. … Colorado had 28 home wins, matching a franchise record for wins that was set in 2000-01, when the team hoisted the Stanley Cup.
Avalanche: Face Nashville in the first round of the playoffs. The Avs were 0-3-1 against the Predators this season.
By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
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