Avalanche defeat St. Louis, close the gap on Central Division race

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (8) celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period against the St. Louis Blues at the Pepsi Center.

In a game where the shots were hard to come by, the gaps were tight and the checking was fierce, the Avalanche pulled away with a 5-3 victory Saturday, defeating the Central Division-leading St. Louis Blues at their own game in a matinee at the Pepsi Center.

Colorado, (27-15-6) which got goals from Cale Makar and Andre Burakovsky within 22 seconds in the second period, now has points in four straight games to pull within eight of St. Louis for the division lead with a game in hand.

“I liked our jump, our skating, good energy in the locker room before the game carried over onto the ice,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “They don’t give up a lot of time in the D-zone so you really got to work in there and try to get chances.”

The Avs were outshot 24-18, including a stretch where the Blues recorded six straight shots, scored twice, and taken 2-1 lead in the second period. But Colorado quickly shifted the momentum to take control.

After killing off a rare penalty by Makar, the Avalanche got the tying goal from forward Tyson Jost followed by Makar and Burakovsky’s tallies to make it 4-2 and chase St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington after just 11 shots.

Jost’s goal was his first since Nov. 30. Burakovsky had not scored since Dec. 18.

“We got some timely goals, big goals from guys that haven’t scored in a while,” Bednar said. “You can see a little confidence come back and hopefully you see that continue.”

Burakovsky, who set up Jost’s goal, surpassed his goal totals from the past three seasons a month ago before going 13 games without a goal.

“As long as we win I don’t care if I score or not,” Burakovsky said. “But it’s always nice to help the team get on the board. It was nice to see it go in.”

Superstar Nathan MacKinnon made it 1-0 3:41 into the game on the Avs’ first shot and he added an assist on captain Gabe Landeskog’s empty-net goal with two seconds remaining.

MacKinnon climbed to 70 points, still third in the NHL behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. He accomplished the feat in 48 games for the second consecutive season.

Makar’s goal was his 11th of the season, a new franchise record for goals by a rookie defenseman. The blueliner surpassed former Av-turned-broadcaster John-Michael Liles in a spectacular individual effort.

Makar held the puck along the end boards before skating along the blue line, beating three Blues defenders before firing it through screens and into the back of the net.

“Once I made a move past the first guy I saw that they were pretty dead because he didn’t really move and then the same with the second guy,” Makar said. “I just kept trying to go with it and was going to make a play but I saw that there was an open lane with a good screen in front of the net. I was able to get it to luckily go in.”

Colorado held that two-goal lead into the second intermission, hoping to erase memories of the past month that have resulted in blown third-period leads.

The Blues got within 4-3 with a goal from captain Alex Pietrangelo 7:23 into the third. Suddenly, the Avs faithful were thinking of another late-game collapse. But the Avalanche persevered, getting Landeskog’s empty-net goal.

“We’ve been burned on 6-on-5 in the past,” Bednar said. “We just get a little too passive where there are certain areas where I want us to get aggressive and really make them work to try to get scoring chances. Guys off the scrums have to be really aware of certain things that they try to do, which is throwing it to the weak side to guys like (David) Perron.”

Colorado is 2-0-2 on its current homestand heading into Monday’s 1 p.m. MST matinee against the Detroit Red Wings. The last leg of the homestand will be the final game before the All-Star break.

Footnotes

Grubauer made 21 saves to earn his second straight victory. … Grubauer has stopped 48-of-51 shots in his last two games. … The Avalanche scored the first goal for the fifth consecutive game and seventh time in eight games this month. … Girard recorded his 10th assist of the month in eight games.

Three Stars

  1. Andre Burakovsky: He was Colorado’s best skater on the ice. His goal and assist in a nine-minute window of the second period propelled Colorado to another victory against St. Louis.
  2. Nathan MacKinnon: After failing to record a point against San Jose, MacKinnon found his way back on the scoresheet early on.
  3. Ryan Graves: The defenseman played a team-high 21 minutes on Saturday. This is the first time in his career that he has led the Avalanche in ice-time.
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