The Avalanche came out of its second COVID-19 protocol shutdown Thursday, playing its first game in eight nights, and skated away with a 4-2 playoff-clinching victory against the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center.
Colorado, which was shut down for five days before resuming practice Wednesday, got two goals from winger Andre Burakovsky, three assists from center Nathan MacKinnon and killed off the Blues’ final four power plays.
“It shows a lot of team character,” Burakovsky said of the win that clinched the Avs’ fourth consecutive playoff appearance.
Third-line center Tyson Jost made a great play on the Avs’ first goal and goalie Devan Dubnyk won at St. Louis for the second straight time. Colorado is in the middle of a revised schedule that has it playing four straight games at St. Louis, with the third game set for Saturday afternoon.
The Avs (31-9-4) are the NHL’s second team to clinch a playoff spot, following the Vegas Golden Knights, the West Division rivals who clinched Wednesday night. Colorado is now two points behind the Knights for the division lead and Presidents’ Trophy race, with two games in hand.
The first time the Avalanche came out of COVID-19 protocol shutdown, it failed to muster a goal and fell 1-0 on Feb. 14 at Vegas. This time, the Avs had enough of all facets of the game to improve to 10-1 in their last 11 contests and 5-1 against St. Louis.
Burakovsky stepped in to replace Mikko Rantanen on the top line and No. 1 power play. Burakovsky produced a power-play goal in the second period and gave the Avs a 3-1 lead 11:29 of the third period.
“It’s not an easy role to fill in for Mikko. He’s one of the best and, yeah, I had to step my game and play solid,” Burakovsky said.
Former Colorado College standout Jaden Schwartz scored both goals for the Blues, who have lost five straight to the Avs since winning on opening night in Denver.
The Avalanche scored the only goal of the second period. It came on the power play at 6:45 with Blues defenseman Colton Parayko in the box for delay of game (lifting puck over glass). Burakovsky capitalized on a rebound from the left of the crease, following a Cale Makar shot from the point. MacKinnon got the second assist to extend his points streak to 12 games, currently the NHL’s longest.
It was 1-1 after the first 20 minutes. The Blues got a power-play goal from Schwartz at 3:18 and Brandon Saad tied at 19:28 by making a good forehand/backhand move from in front of the crease to slide the puck under goalie Jordan Binnington. Jost set the play up by creating a turnover and throwing the puck to the net to a wide-open Saad.
“You don’t really know how you’re going to feel coming off a little break like that when you’re not on the ice,” Jost said. “St. Louis got a nice goal on the power play there and we needed to respond. Period was winding down. I reloaded over the top of the puck, knocked it down and found Saader back door and he made a great finish. Definitely felt good.”
The Avs also played without winger Joonas Donskoi and goalie Philipp Grubauer, each out after testing positive for COVID-19. Rantanen is in contract tracing protocol and could potentially rejoin the team for Monday’s eighth and final game against the Blues or Wednesday in Las Vegas against the Golden Knights.
Avs’ Jared Bednar coached in his 360th NHL game — all with the Avs — to surpass Bob Hartley for the club record.
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