The Colorado Avalanche, losers of four straight games, sought to right the ship when they hosted the St. Louis Blues at Ball Arena in Denver Tuesday night. While Colorado has locked up home ice for the first three rounds of the playoffs, the Blues are in a tight battle with the Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames for the second overall seed in the Western Conference.
Yet, it was the Avalanche who came out sharp on their edges in the first period, playing with an urgency that’s been missing the last several games. They outshot the Blues through the first two periods 23-16, building a 4-1 lead that lasted until the final four minutes of the game. St. Louis seemed to wake up at the point, dominating possession and scoring two unanswered goals, before Avalanche center Nazem Kadri put the game out of reach with an empty netter inside the final minute of play. The Avalanche won the contest 5-3, ending the Blues’ 16-game point streak, which was a franchise record.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Colorado Stops the Bleeding
Avalanche fans let out a collective breath when the final horn sounded, with Colorado surviving a late charge by the Blues. The win halted the four-game skid, the longest of the season for the team, and the longest in the regular season since January of 2020. While they have been battling injuries (more on that below) and playing with a depleted roster, there was palpable concern in the city of Denver about their losing streak.
The win, though hard-fought, gave the team and its fans confidence heading into their final two regular-season contests. It also tied a franchise record with 118 points, and put the Avalanche just two points behind the Florida Panthers in the battle for the Presidents’ Trophy, with each team having two games left on its schedule.
Some very good teams have limped into the postseason and performed well. Most recently, the Tampa Bay Lightning went 0-3-0 in their final three games last year, before sweeping the Montreal Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup. Those same Canadiens lost four of their final five regular-season games in 2020-21. Still, fans — along with the coaches and the players — would rather see the Avalanche finish strong.
Avalanche Very Slowly Getting Healthy
Devon Toews was back on the ice for the game. Colorado’s number two defender, after Norris Trophy candidate Cale Makar, has been sidelined by an undisclosed issue for the last four games. He is an impact player when he’s been in the lineup as the Avalanche are 51-9-5, while without him, they’re 5-9-1. He picked up where he left off, logging 24:07 in ice time against the Blues and finishing with a plus/minus rating of plus-2.
Two key players, captain Gabriel Landeskog and first-line forward Mikko Rantanen remained out of the lineup. The two, both having career years, accounted for 150 of Colorado’s 814 points this season, or 18.4 percent of the scoring. Rantanen is expected to be back on Thursday for the team’s game against the Nashville Predators, and Landeskog is expected to be ready for the first game of the playoffs.
Avalanche Defensive Corps Continues Its Dominant Play
The Avalanche held the Blues to just five shots on goal in the second period with St. Louis not recording its first shot until the 9:14 mark of the middle frame. Two of Colorado’s five goals came from defenders; one from veteran Erik Johnson, and one from trade deadline acquisition Josh Manson.
Johnson, the longest-tenured athlete among the major sports teams in Denver, sat out all but four games of the 2020-21 season due to injury, including all of the postseason. His size, physicality, and veteran presence were sorely missed in the playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights last year, which the Avalanche lost in six games. He heads into the playoffs healthy for the first time since 2019.
All that said, there are real questions about Johnson’s future with Colorado after this season. With a high cap hit, a propensity for being injured, and a need to clear space for other big contracts, it’s possible this will be the last season we see the Bloomington, Minnesota native in an Avalanche sweater.
Up Next For the Avalanche
The Avalanche will close out the regular season with back-to-back games. They’ll face the Nashville Predators at home Thursday, and travel to Minnesota to play the Wild on Friday. They will likely face the Dallas Stars or the Predators in the first round of the playoffs, which begin Monday, May 2.
Hockey dad, beer league hockey captain, rabid Avalanche fan. Author of five novels for young adults, including The Scar Boys, Life in a Fishbowl, and Hard Wired. Lives in Littleton, Colorado with two middle school-age kids, one awesome wife, and three pets. Voted least likely to break 100 on a golf course.