The NHL playoffs are making a return to Denver Colorado for the first time since the 2013-14 season after the Avalanche took advantage of the win-or-go-home final game of the regular season, beating the St. Louis Blues by a 5-2 final score.
The energy from the sellout crowd inside Pepsi Center was similar to that of a game seven playoff matchup and considering the stakes involved, it basically was a game seven.
“I really liked our start,” coach Jared Bednar said following the victory. “I think the crowd and the building was energized and I think our guys fed off that. They knew the importance of the game.”
The Avalanche controlled a majority of the first period but were unable to get pucks past St. Louis’ Jake Allen who had a strong start to the game.
That is until Samuel Girard released a slap shot from the point that allowed the entire building to exhale, including his teammates, and the Avs headed to the dressing room with a 1-0 lead.
“I guess I just tried to put it on net,” Girard recalled. “It was a nice pass and a nice screen, that’s how teams work right there.
“I think our mindset in between periods was to forget the period and go back for the second. I think we played a pretty good game and managed the puck well.”
The second period featured some back and forth play from both sides, but the turning point of the period and the game came on Colorado’s second power-play chance of the night. Tyson Barrie took a slap shot through traffic that cleanly beat Jake Allen.
“It was just a play we’ve done before,” Barrie commented on his goal. “If it transfers sides and it goes to Mikko, I usually have a pretty good lane so I was just trying to get it by their forward.”
The play was reviewed for a possible offside call earlier in the play but the goal was upheld due to inconclusive evidence of the offsides in question. The Avs were up 2-0 and there was a visible comfort from the home team following Barrie’s goal.
“I thought I got across in time, but I have no idea,” Barrie said on the controversial call. “I wasn’t sure. If they blew it down I wouldn’t be surprised, but obviously, it went our way so that was nice to see.”
The Blues weren’t ready to submit just yet. At 12:28 into the second period St. Louis added a power-play goal of their own when Jaden Schwartz tipped an Alex Pietrangelo shot past Jonathan Bernier. Schwartz was standing immediately in front of Bernier and tipped the shot downward leaving Bernier no time to react.
Nathan MacKinnon would score the period’s final goal when he took his own zone-entry all the way to the net and put the puck top shelf past Jake Allen providing Colorado with some insurance and comfort they needed heading into the third.
The third period was scoreless until the Blues pulled their goalie with 4:35 remaining and suddenly, there were garbage time goals aplenty. Gabe Landeskog started it off when he scored from the far blue line on an empty net and an Avalanche dogpile ensued as the players knew Landeskog had officially punched their ticket to the playoffs.
“I can’t tell you how good it felt to get the empty netter,” Barrie said on Landeskog’s goal. “The boys were going wild on the bench and it was special.”
After that, both St. Louis and Colorado would add another goal each in the final minutes of play, but neither had much of an impact on the final score.
Colorado will now face the Nashville Predators in the first round of the playoffs beginning Thursday. After an arduous stretch of games to wrap up the season with very little practice time, Colorado will appreciate the days off to prepare for an opponent they haven’t beat since the 2015-16 season.
The Avalanche finish the year with 95 points and a ticket to the Stanley Cup playoffs, a feat no one but themselves thought was possible.