DENVER (AP) — Jonathan Bernier was thrust into the starting role when Semyon Varlamov went down. The backup is filling in nicely for Colorado’s No. 1 goalie.
Bernier had 18 of his 34 saves in the third period for his second shutout of the season, and the Avalanche beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-0 on Thursday night.
Mikko Rantanen had a goal and an assist and Matt Nieto also scored for the Avalanche, who have won a season-high four straight.
It is the first time Colorado has won four in a row since Jan. 18-23, 2016. It was also the Avalanche’s 21st win, one fewer than all of last year, and the 45 points are three fewer than 2016-17.
The sudden surge has the players thinking playoffs halfway through the season.
“It’s totally different situation now. The team is feeling good, I think every guy is feeling good about themselves,” Rantanen said. “Bernie played a great game so it’s looking good for us. There’s a lot of games left so we can’t get too comfortable right now.”
Bernier has played in the last three games — starting two — because of a lower-body injury to Varlamov. Varlamov left the game against Winnipeg on Tuesday and Bernier came on to get the win in overtime.
He just missed a shutout against the New York Islanders on Sunday before getting the 16th of his career Thursday night even though he didn’t think he played his best game.
“I thought I was giving up a lot of rebounds. It was one of those nights where it’s hard to find the puck, so you’re just trying to be in good position and seal the bottom,” he said. “I don’t think I was as sharp as a lot of games I’ve played this year.”
Sergei Bobrovsky, who has played well against Colorado in his career, stopped 30 shots. The Blue Jackets are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games.
“It is what it was. Our guys played hard,” said Bobrovsky, who is 5-2-1 in his career against Colorado. “They played strong defense. Sometimes you have to give the other side credit and deal with the result.”
Rantanen ended the scoreless tie on a power play late in the second period. His shot went through a screen and off Columbus defenseman Scott Harrington at 12:48.
The Avalanche had a 21-10 advantage in shots at the time of the goal, but Columbus came on strong at the end of the second and the third. The Blue Jackets outshot Colorado 21-5 over one stretch and had 16 of the first 17 shots on goal to start the third period.
“We didn’t have much in the first two,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “We switched a couple of lines and obviously played a better third. Couldn’t score.”
Bobrovsky started to come off for an extra skater with less than two minutes left, but Colorado gained control of the puck. Nieto scored before Bobrovsky could get back to the crease.
“That is my fault on pulling the goalie. I need to wait until we get control,” Tortorella said. “I put Bob in a helluva spot on their second goal.”
NOTES: Rantanen has at least one point in 10 of the last 11 games. … Varlamov’s injury will sideline him through at least Saturday. Colorado has a week break after that. … Columbus recalled C Zac Dalpe and D Dean Kukan from Cleveland of the AHL. Both were healthy scratches Thursday. … Colorado has killed off 39 of the last 40 power-play opportunities.
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