The Avalanche’s playoff hopes will come down to the final game of the regular season.

After beating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 Friday night, the St. Louis Blues leapfrogged the Avalanche, landing in the second Western Conference wild-card spot.

So the Avs will be one point behind the Blues headed into the season-concluding head-to-head matchup Saturday night at the Pepsi Center.

Defenseman Erik Johnson is out for the season, however long it lasts.

Goaltender Semyon Varlamov is out for the season, however long it lasts.

The problem there is that at this point, the indisputable conclusion is that Johnson and Varlamov both are statistically likely to be injury prone. Note, I didn’t say they are injury prone. They just tend to get hurt, whether because of extraordinary vulnerability or just bad luck.

Their absences were ready-made rationalizations as the final week of the season opened.

However, as long as the Avalanche doesn’t overly cite those as the excuses for a stretch-run skid — with Nathan MacKinnon and the top line considerably cooling off, Colorado is 2-5-1 in its last eight — there are worse things for this franchise than missing the playoffs the season after its horrific 48-point showing in 2016-17.

There’s still a long way to go for the Avalanche to be a bona fide Stanley Cup contender.

An orange-slices season of making the post-season, meeting Nashville in the first round and lasting a round or two could be counterproductive for the Avalanche in the long run if it’s allowed to produce a false sense of cockiness.

Joe Sakic deserves mountains of credit for engineering this turnaround, with the small-print footnote that he also was in charge when the Avalanche slid from the incredibly consistent 112-point season in Patrick Roy’s first season behind the bench in 2013-14. He was patient, and his iconic status with the franchise and in this market stretched his safety net.

The truth is, in the wake of the dreadful 2016-17, not even Sakic expected the Avalanche to be in the playoffs this season. To his credit, his approach has been consistent patience, whether than has meant biding his time until closing what at this point still seems the absurdly unbalanced Matt Duchene trade; or passing on the chance to give up assets and acquire rentals and/or make the team only marginally better for the short term.

Regardless of what happens as the Avalanche closes out 2017-18, only an idiot or a reaching regular purveyor of contrived controversy would portray this season off as a failure.

MacKinnon’s breakout season, underscoring that he deserves to be mentioned in the same paragraphs as No. 1 overall draft choices billed as generational (e.g., Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews), is the major cause for optimism.

But there’s a lot more.

The Avalanche is on the right track.

Making the postseason for the first time since 2014 would lead to a fun experience for those on the ice, in the front office, in the seats and in front of the HDTV.

I’m not saying this team should tank it in the final two games. I’m saying there might be something appropriate and motivational about missing the post-season again.

Not quite reaching the carrot wouldn’t be all bad.

It would set up the next step in the progressive franchise recovery.

And because of the additional motivation, there are a lot worse things that can happen to this franchise.

*    *    *

Terry Frei of the Greeley Tribune writes two commentaries a week for Mile High Sports. He has been named a state’s sports writer of the year seven times, four times in Colorado (including for 2016) and three times in Oregon. He’s the author of seven books, including “March 1939: Before the Madness,” about the first NCAA basketball tournament and its champions; and “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” about the landmark 1969 Texas-Arkansas football game and the events swirling around it. His web site is and his additional “On the Colorado Scene” commentaries are at terryfrei/oncolorado. 

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @tfrei

Terry Frei’s MHS Commentary/Story Archive:

The obligations of stardom for MacKinnon, line

An Avs’ playoff berth can be flashback 

Here come the Knights … now and maybe in postseason

Nathan MacKinnon’s MVP talk becoming more legit

Amid March Madness, how the NBA should emulate the NHL 

Nathan, good intentions, bad idea 

Fourteen years ago, Steve Moore played his final game for the Avalanche

Avalanche going into final month in control of own destiny

Is Duncan Siemens becoming more than an “organization” guy?

At least here, NHL trading deadline was much ado about very, very little

Avalanche standing pat wouldn’t be irresponsible inertia

If the NHL stays away again, USA Hockey should be all-collegians

Just your average Harvard guy from West Vancouver

As MacKinnon skates closer to return, Avs have stayed in the playoff hunt

Bowman Brothers Reunion with the Colorado Eagles in final season as Avs’ ECHL affiliate

The longer Bernier can hold the net, the better off the Avalanche will be

Magazine: Interview with DU local product — and Olympian — Troy Terry  

Magazine: Nordic Combined ace Bryan Fletcher beat childhood cancer 

Magazine: Arvada-raised Olympic snowboarder Chris Corning  

Magazine: Mikaela Shiffrin can add Olympic glory in amazing season

Magazine: Lindsey Vonn shooting to stay healthy, go for gold 

Magazine: Lakewood’s Nicole Hensley is USA’s backup goalie

Magazine: Gateway High Olympian Stephen Garbett

Don’t let MacKinnon injury knock the Avalanche off course

NHL, Avs heading back to work, not Olympics

A Tale of Avalanche All-Stars, past and present

All Aboard! Avalanche bandwagon gains momentum

A kid in Long Beach and his first stick

Jonathan Bernier on taking over the Avalanche net

Nathan MacKinnon doesn’t mind not being recognized … at the mall

Glory Days … Now get Springsteen out of your head

Sakic/Bednar and Elway/Joseph: Eerie parallels

Carl Soderberg goes from albatross to asset

Magazine: Jim Montgomery is Mile High Sports’ college coach of the year

Magazine: Will Butcher is Mile High Sports’ college athlete of the year 

Varlamov playing better than the numbers might indicate 

At the Christmas break, Avalanche is last — but still a turnaround story  

Tyson Barrie isn’t pictured, but he’s in the Avalanche picture 

On this (unnamed) line, Gabe Landeskog amps up the scoring

Avalanche rushing game involves Girard and Jost

And the Nathan MacKinnon answer is… 

Noted hockey pundit Yogi Berra would call this deja vu all over again

MacKinnon and O’Reilly meet again

Catching up with Jared Bednar

Gabe Landeskog has to be smarter, and he’s the first to say so

For Avalanche, winning back fans isn’t easy, either

Horseman/defenseman Erik Johnson up to playing marathon minutes

Ring of Famer Red Miller, Part One: Coal Miner’s son

Ring of Famer Red Miller, Part Two: About those %$#@ Raiders… 

This time a year ago, the wheels fell off 

Post-trade: On Girard and Kamenev

Matt Duchene heads to Ottawa

Stockholm is a Homecoming for Landeskog

Why Can’t MacKinnon do that every night?

And this Avalanche team is?

At the Pepsi Center, you’ll think you’re in Chicago

Is Zadorov ready to be – and stay – a top-pairing “D”?

For this is to work, Bernier has to be better

This isn’t just Jared Bednar’s second season. It’s his second chance.

Sven (The Reindeer) Andrighetto speedily skating into Avalanche forefront

With Avalanche off to another 3-1 start, leadership is a “core” issue

Magazine: Colorado Eagles’ class act in Northern Colorado

Magazine: Avalanche convinced a turnaround is possible