DENVER -- Colorado Avalanche fans were treated to a rare feat Saturday night at the Pepsi Center, a hat trick by a member of the home team.
Chris Stewart completed the first three-goal performance by a Colorado player in 200 regular-season games on a second-period penalty shot during the Avalanche’s 7-3 win over the St. Louis Blues.
Stewart, who had a career-high four points, now has a team-leading 24 goals to go along with 51 points, second on the Avs to Paul Stastny.
Those are pretty gaudy numbers for a guy whose work ethic was questioned by first-year coach Joe Sacco in October, when Stewart was a healthy scratch for four consecutive games and was shipped to the minors, returning two days later only because the Avs ran into injuries.
“I’m kind of thankful that it happened,” Stewart said of the demotion. “It was definitely an eye-opener. They let you know that you have to work for everything that you get in this league. I’m not satisfied. Every game I want to get better. I want to have the same hunger every game.”
Stewart was awarded the penalty shot with 56.4 seconds remaining in the second period after he accepted a pass from T.J. Galiardi and was tripped by Blues defenseman Erik Johnson. Stewart put a forehand shot over goalie Ty Conklin’s glove to complete the first Colorado hat trick since Milan Hejduk got one against the Blues on Dec. 9, 2007.
“I usually like to come down the right wing, but this time I used the left wing and faked a little shot and got it up,” Stewart said. “It felt great. I think Galiardi was a little upset that I got tripped on the breakaway. He was making great plays all night.”
Galiardi had a goal and two assists, while Hejduk scored twice in his first game since Jan. 11 after recovering from knee and back injuries.
“We skated well and had a lot of short give-and-go passes, which definitely I like for my game,” said Hejduk, who played on a line with newly-acquired Peter Mueller and rookie Matt Duchene. “We had a lot of jump. It seems like a good fit and hopefully we’ll keep it up and play well in the future.”
It was a much-needed win for the Avs, who had lost three of their four previous games, including Thursday’s disheartening 3-1 loss to Phoenix, when the Coyotes broke a 1-1 tie in the final 23 seconds.
“It was important,” Sacco said. “We had to let that game go. Personally, for myself, even (Friday) it was a tough game to let go. But we talked about that this morning. This is a game of emotions and we were all emotional after that game.”
The Avalanche reached the 80-point mark to match Northwest Division-leading Vancouver, which has played one fewer game and owns two more wins (39-37). The teams meet Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center.
Led by red-hot goalie Chris Mason, the Blues had won five games in a row to pull within three points of a Western Conference playoff berth.
But Colorado chased Mason for the second time in less than a month. He was replaced by Conklin at 1:18 of the second period after allowing two goals on three shots in the period and four goals on 15 shots overall.
Mason hadn’t lost since a 5-2 defeat to the Avalanche on Feb. 8 in which he also was pulled early in the second period after allowing five goals on 15 shots.
“They plain and simply outworked us,” Mason said. “These guys are a hard-working team and they’ve been playing that way all year. It felt like one of those nights. I felt good. I don’t think any of the goals were bad goals. It’s just one of those nights where they find ways to put the puck in the net. It’s a game we have to bury and move on.”
Stewart scored his second goal of the game 54 seconds into the second period with a shot from the right circle that beat Mason to the far side for a 3-1 lead. Hejduk followed 24 seconds later with his second goal when his shot caromed into the net off the skate of St. Louis’ Patrik Berglund.
Galiardi increased the lead to 5-1 with a backhander from the slot at 10:07. Blues forward Alexander Steen responded with the first of his two goals at 10:38.
Hejduk and Stewart connected 72 seconds apart to give the Avalanche a 2-1 lead in the first period after David Perron opened the scoring for the Blues at 8:35.
Mueller, playing his first home game since Wednesday’s trade from Phoenix, sent a long diagonal pass to Hejduk skating down right wing. Hejduk put his own rebound past Mason at 8:46.
“I wouldn’t say I was nervous, but when you don’t play for a long time your timing is a little off, so it was good to get an early goal,” Hejduk said. “I was ready to play right after the (Olympics) break and then I pulled a muscle in my back in practice. It was frustrating.”
Stewart put the Avalanche ahead for good 2-1 at 9:58 with another rebound goal after Galiardi forced Johnson into a turnover along the end boards.
Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson, starting for the 20th consecutive game, finished with 39 saves for his 33rd win, the fourth-best single-season figure in franchise history.
1 - 0 STL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 COL
3 - 1 COL
4 - 1 COL
5 - 1 COL
5 - 2 COL
6 - 2 COL
6 - 3 COL
7 - 3 COL
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