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Avs Gaining Confidence After Sweeping Blues

Players say the tight games should help them in the stretch run and beyond

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

The Colorado Avalanche might be on a 14-game point streak, but the team's recent success hasn't been as easy as it might appear.

The squad has had to show its versatility to win different ways during the run, and Colorado played in two such outings in the back-to-back set against the St. Louis Blues.

On Friday, the Avs had a 3-2 lead at the second intermission and held on for the victory. Saturday saw St. Louis play a tough, tighter game with the score tied at 1-1 for most of the night, but Colorado stuck with its game plan and won 2-1 after Cale Makar's shot found twine in the final minute of regulation.

"There wasn't much talk at all because the second period we played the way we wanted to play," said goaltender Philipp Grubauer when asked about the conversations in the locker room after 40 minutes of play. "We were really comfortable going into the third period… We all know what we got to do, we've played enough games and we got to continue to manage those games because it's like a playoff game."

The Avs' 12-0-2 record during their streak ties them with the 2002-03 squad for the second-longest stretch with a point in franchise history (11-0-2-1, Jan. 20-Feb. 20, 2003). The record is held by the Stanley Cup-winning team of 2000-01 that went 16 outings with a point from Dec. 27, 2000-Jan. 30, 2001 (12-0-3-1).

Colorado outshot St. Louis 34-28 and had a 61-44 edge in total attempts in the game. The Blues delivered 18 hits to the Avs' six and had a 14-7 advantage in blocked shots. Despite the physical affair, the Avalanche was comfortable in the way the outing was playing out.

"In between periods, we were talking about how beneficial this is for us," Makar said. "Obviously we don't want every single game to be a blow out, whether it is us or the other team, and we need these tight games to prepare us for hopefully what we're going through in playoffs. We were really looking forward to this third period, and I think it showed with just our tenacity and getting on their D-men early in the period and then just our quick transitions and hemming them in their zone for quite a while."

The Avalanche finally capitalized with 40.1 seconds remaining in the third period, as Makar's shot from the right point got through traffic and past goalie Ville Husso.

"I thought Cale had a couple good shots in the third period, just missed the top corner a couple times--we had a great view from the bench--and he just kept shooting it," Bednar said. "He got rewarded at the end of the game."

Video: STL@COL: Makar's shot deflects in for late Avs lead

The victory coupled with the Vegas Golden Knights' 2-1 loss against the Minnesota Wild later in the night opened up a four-point lead in the West Division standings for the Avs (54 points, 25-8-4). The Knights have 50 points but have played one fewer game than Colorado.

"I think for us as a team, especially in the past month, we've definitely found our rhythm… and playing to our identity and character and knowing what our strengths are every single night," Makar said. "I think it makes it fun for us knowing that we can go into every game knowing that we have a chance to win if we play our systems right. I think everybody has bought in and is so committed this year."

Saturday's contest concluded a six-game homestand (5-0-1) and a stretch that had the Avs playing 15-of-17 at home. Colorado went 13-1-3 in that span and will now be on the road for most of the final five weeks of the year. Only five of the team's last 19 outings will be at Ball Arena.

The Avalanche seems to be hitting its stride as it prepares for a tough final stretch, but Bednar likes where his club's mindset is at.

"To play close games like that and come out on top, I think it's important," Bednar said postgame. "It's going to be important. You know, we're in a fight and a race to try and get home ice and put ourselves in the best possible position that we can for the playoffs and our guys are taking that to heart. They're coming out every night with the right mindset and desire to win the hockey game. I expect that to continue here down the stretch."

MACK HEATING UP

Nathan MacKinnon may have gone four games without finding the back of the net, but the Avs forward now has three markers in the past two contests to improve to 13 on the campaign.

MacKinnon opened the scoring at 11:27 of the first period on Saturday, as he took a pass from Gabriel Landeskog during a rush up the ice and tallied from the right circle. It was his 203rd career goal to pass Peter Forsberg for the fourth-most in Avalanche history (since 1995-96). Landeskog is next on the list in third place with 212 tallies in a Colorado uniform.

The marker also extended his point streak to five games, where he's recorded three goals and five assists during the run. MacKinnon has 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in 14 outings since returning from an injury on March 10.

Video: STL@COL: MacKinnon roofs puck on rush for goal

The Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, native leads the club with 30 assists and is now tied with Mikko Rantanen for the team lead in scoring with 43 points.

NICHUSHKIN RETURNS & TEAM INJURIES

After missing Friday's contest with an upper-body injury, Valeri Nichushkin made his return to the ice for the second game versus the Blues. Nichushkin was back in the same spot on his previous line combination with Tyson Jost at center and Joonas Donskoi at right wing.

Despite getting several players back in the lineup over the past several weeks, Colorado's training room has remained busy as of late. Bowen Byram continues to make progress from his upper-body injury but wasn't cleared to play over the weekend, while Logan O'Connor will likely miss a few weeks with a lower-body ailment after getting hurt in Wednesday's outing versus the Arizona Coyotes.

Matt Calvert (upper body) remains week-to-week and Pavel Francouz (lower body) and Erik Johnson (upper body) are still out long term.

MORE POSTGAME NOTES

The Avs completed their sixth back-to-back of the season and are now 3-0-3 in the second game of such sets. Combined, Colorado is 8-1-3 in consecutive-night outings and has now swept two back-to-backs (also: Feb. 26-27 at Arizona).

The Avalanche and Blues are halfway through their eight-game season series, with Colorado owning a 3-1-0 record.

Colorado held its annual Military Appreciation Night and improved to 8-2-0 in those games.

Goaltender Philipp Grubauer equaled the franchise record for consecutive games with a point (12), going 11-0-1. Two other goaltenders in Avalanche/Quebec history have had 12-game point streaks: Peter Budaj in 2006-07 season and Patrick Roy in 1996-97.

Cale Makar scored his second game-winning goal of the season and sixth of his career.

Gabriel Landeskog extended his point streak to four games and has totaled seven points (three goals, four assists) over that span. He has collected 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) in his last 20 outings.

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