After having a week-long pause due to the league's COVID-19 protocols, the Colorado Avalanche picked up where it left off and secured its spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
For the fourth consecutive year and 26th time in franchise history, the Avs are headed to the postseason. Needing a regulation win to become the second NHL team to clinch a playoff position this year, Nathan MacKinnon had three assists, Andre Burakovsky scored twice and Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves to help Colorado win 4-2 against the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center on Thursday.
It was Colorado's first game since April 14 when the squad earned a victory at the Blues after Dubnyk made an unexpected start between the pipes when Philipp Grubauer entered the league's COVID protocol. Between the outings, the Avalanche players, coaches and staff quarantined for five days and were not able to go on the ice until Wednesday afternoon.
Despite limited practice time and missing a few players who remain in the COVID protocol, the Avs showed up on Thursday with a focused mindset.
Video: Tyson Jost on his recent play after the win in STL
"It was awesome, you even look back to the last St. Louis game before the little pause there, that was another gutsy effort by our team, and we pulled it together and we did the same thing tonight," said Tyson Jost. "That is what we're going to need in playoffs too. You know the games are going to get tight, and St. Louis is going to have a push, other teams are going to have pushes and we need to respond like we did. We are getting contributions throughout all four lines too and our D are playing great, and Dubby was outstanding tonight too. It's fun to play like that too when you are snapping it around and having fun and everyone is buying in."
Colorado became the second team in the NHL to add an 'x' next to its name in the standings with its fifth win in a row and fourth straight victory against the Blues this season. The Vegas Golden Knights were the first to clinch on Wednesday night.
The Avs have 66 points with a 31-9-4 record so far this year, their best through 44 games in franchise history. The previous mark was 64 points with a 28-8-7-1 record set by the 2000-01 Stanley Cup championship team.
"Real good game for us for being the first one back and happy to get that result. It was a pretty hard-fought, close hockey game," said head coach Jared Bednar. "Chances I am sure were pretty even 5-on-5 and both power plays got one, so good all-around effort. I liked the way [Devan] Dubnyk played in goal again tonight and gets us a big win, so I'm pretty happy with it."
Though the 2020-21 season is anything but ordinary, the Avalanche has rolled with the punches throughout the year. The team is growing through the adversity that it is facing by showing up to compete every night despite the challenges sent its way.
"I think it shows a lot of team character. I think we we're battling in both of these games," Burakovsky said of the past two contests against the Blues. "I think St. Louis was playing really good again tonight as well, I think they did in the last one too. It's a tough team to play against, they make it hard for us, but I think these two games we simplified our game, we're not making a lot of mistakes. We chip it in when we need to and then we try to outwork them down low. I think we've been successful that way.
"You can't have any excuses in this league, even if you feel a little bad, sick a little bit and been off for a couple days, every time you put those skates on you got to go out there and compete, I mean you got to do a job no matter what. I think it shows a lot of character in this team, and I think it was a really good win for us."
Video: Andre Burakovsky after scoring twice vs. the Blues
BEDNAR PASSES HARTLEY
The contest was the 360th of Jared Bednar's tenure as Colorado's head coach, and he has now been the bench boss for more regular season games than any other coach in Avalanche history (since 1995-96).
He passed Bob Hartley (359) with the milestone outing. Bednar and Hartley are now the only coaches to lead the Avalanche to four consecutive postseason appearances since the franchise moved to Denver.
"It's been a lot of fun. I enjoy the heck out of coaching this team and these players, and when they work like this and you start seeing the results coming year after year, getting better and better every year, its highly encouraging as a coach," he said. "I think our buy-in in a bunch of aspects of our game, especially on the defending side of the puck and just getting more committed to a good all-around team game, and just being great teammates. I like what's going on around here and that's a credit to all the players. I have enjoyed it immensely, and hopefully we can go and keep this thing going down the stretch run and into the playoffs and achieve the ultimate goal which is why we're all here."
Bednar now trails only Michel Bergeron (634 games with Quebec) for the most games coached in franchise history.
Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar after the win in St. Louis
MacKINNON EXTENDS STREAK
Nathan MacKinnon finished the contest with three assists to push his point streak to 12 games (seven goals, 14 assists), the longest active streak in the NHL and tied for the third-longest in the league in 2020-21.
It marks his fourth point streak of 12 or more games in the regular season. Only two other players in Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques history have registered more such runs of at least 12 contests (Peter Stastny, eight times; Joe Sakic, five times).
MacKinnon has collected 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in the month of April, tied for third in the league in scoring for the month, while his 1.78 points-per-game average in April ranks first.
JOST PUSHES HIS STREAK TOO
Tyson Jost registered the only assist on Brandon Saad's tally in the final minute of the first period to knot the game at 1-1 and extended his career-best point and assist streak to five games in the process.
"It felt good, obviously you don't really know how you are going to feel when you are coming off a little break like that when you aren't on the ice, and St. Louis got a nice goal on the power play there and we needed to respond and the period was winding down," Jost said of his assist. "I just reloaded over the top of the puck and knocked it out and found Saader back door, and he made a great finish. Definitely felt good. Like I said, you never really know how the game is going to go when you've been off for that long, but we did a great job tonight and we need to bring it next game against St. Louis here."
Jost, who finished the game with one shot, one hit and one takeaway in 11:47 of ice time, has five assists during his point streak.
Video: COL@STL: Jost sets up Saad for impressive goal in 1st
MORE POSTGAME NOTES
The Avs are 13-5-2 (.700) on the road this season, the best away points percentage in the NHL. Colorado's 2.60 goals-against average on the road is tied for sixth in the league (New York Rangers), while its 3.30 average goals for on the road is tied for third (Toronto).
Brandon Saad has scored a goal in three straight games, matching his career-best goal streak. Saad has scored in three consecutive contests six previous times (last - Nov. 14-20, 2019). He has 15 goals this season, tied with Joonas Donskoi for fourth on the team, while his 13 goals at even strength rank second to Mikko Rantanen (18).
Andre Burakovsky scored two goals to equal his career best (10x - last: March 31, 2021 vs. Arizona). His second tally stood as the game-winner, his second of the season.
Patrik Nemeth made his season debut with Colorado, becoming the 15th different defenseman to play for the Avalanche in 2020-21. The only season in franchise history to feature more was 2010-11 when 16 defensemen dressed in a game for Colorado. This year ties the 1982-83, 1989-90 and 1993-94 Nordiques for the second most with 15. Nemeth finished with a season-high six blocked shots.