The Colorado Avalanche have clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season, pulling away from a crowded pack in the Western Conference and getting in with a 3-2 overtime victory against the Winnipeg Jets at Pepsi Center on Thursday.
The road to the playoffs wasn't easy. The Avalanche were 22-23-11 on Feb. 12, four points behind the Minnesota Wild for the second wild card from the West, after a 3-13-5 skid that included losing streaks of six (0-4-2) and eight games (0-5-3). A 4-1 win at the Winnipeg Jets two days later began a 16-6-3 stretch that led to the postseason. Colorado is 8-0-2 since March 17, best in the NHL in that span.
A late-season playoff push is nothing new to the Avalanche, who clinched on the final day of 2017-18 with a 5-2 win against the St. Louis Blues.
"We just want to give ourselves a chance to win the Cup," center Nathan MacKinnon said Thursday. "That's what the playoffs is, ultimately ... last year it felt like more of an accomplishment and we were just happy to be in the playoffs. But I think we have a different vibe this year. We actually want to win the Cup and not just make the playoffs and give ourselves a pat on the back."
Here are five reasons the Avalanche clinched a playoff berth:
The Avalanche made their run without two of two of their top three scorers; forward Mikko Rantanen has missed the past seven games with an upper-body injury and forward Gabriel Landeskog returned on March 29 after missing nine games with an upper-body injury.
Considering the two have combined for 65 of Colorado's 256 goals this season, the challenge was daunting. The Avalanche was 2-0-1 in three games when each was sidelined, and Landeskog has five points (one goal, four assists) in four games back in the lineup.
The knock on the Avalanche was they were a one-line team with Rantanen, Landeskog and MacKinnon carrying the offense, but they scored 24 goals in the nine games without Landeskog, with defenseman Tyson Barrie getting 10 points (five goals, five assists). Center Alexander Kerfoot had eight points (four goals, four assists) in an NHL career-high six-game point streak that ended Thursday and center Carl Soderberg has scored an NHL career-high 23 goals.
"We're doing different things on different nights to win hockey games," coach Jared Bednar said after a 3-2 shootout win against the Coyotes on March 29. "We're getting contributions from our whole lineup. Especially with the injuries, guys are stepping up and taking on bigger roles and excelling in those roles. It's a team game and we're playing like that right now. There's no selfishness in our room, it's all team first."
2. Terrific trio
MacKinnon (98 points; 40 goals, 58 assists), Rantanen (87 points; 31 goals, 56 assists) and Landeskog (74 points; 34 goals, 40 assists) have a combined 259 points while scoring 105 of Colorado's 256 goals (41 percent). The Avalanche have three 30-goal scorers for the first time since 1995-96, when they had four (Joe Sakic, 51; Claude Lemieux, 39; Valeri Kamensky, 38; Peter Forsberg, 30), the season it won the Stanley Cup for the first time.
Video: ARI@COL: Landeskog feeds MacKinnon for PPG
3. Grubauer power
The Avalanche took a chance on goalie Philipp Grubauer when they acquired him in a trade with the Washington Capitals for a second-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft on June 22. Through Feb. 5, Grubauer was 9-7-3 with a 3.47 goals-against average and .890 save percentage. Since Feb. 12, he has gone 9-2-2 with a 1.45 GAA, .955 save percentage and three shutouts, taking the No. 1 job away from Semyon Varlamov.
"I don't know what switch was flipped or exactly how it's come about, and I don't want to know," Bednar told Altitude Sports Radio on March 26. "We'll talk at the end of the year. For now, I'm just letting him go about his business because he's in the zone. Sometimes players, they get in the zone and they're playing well ... he's in a zone. Everything looks like it's happening in slow motion for him. He's been exceptional here."
Video: WPG@COL: Grubauer sprawls and makes superb glove stop
4. Third degree
The Avalanche are 28-1-3 when leading after two periods and have scored 103 third-period goals to break their single-season record (96) set in 1996-97. Landeskog leads the NHL with a Colorado/Quebec Nordiques record 20 third-period goals and Rantanen has 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists).
5. Barrie nice
Barrie's 59 points are the most by an Avalanche defenseman since Ray Bourque had 59 in 2000-01. He has 14 goals (tying his NHL high last season) with an NHL career-high 45 assists.
"You need help from the blue line to put up goals all season," Bednar said. "I think if you look at our team -- outside of the MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog [line] creating on their own, they are so dynamic as a threesome -- that everything else starts and helps when the D are involved in it."
Video: EDM@COL: Barrie uses quick release to beat Koskinen