The regular season is winding down for the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks — old foes from playoffs past — and only one finds itself with a decent chance of playing in the postseason.
And thanks to a little help from three Eastern Conference teams, Colorado’s chances are even better.
The Avalanche (34-29-12, 80 points) vaulted into a playoff spot Saturday with a 4-2 win over the Blackhawks in Denver. The two teams take the matchup to Chicago on Sunday night, squaring off again at United Center about 26 hours after the game in Denver.
Saturday’s win was everything the Avalanche needed as they march toward the postseason — timely scoring and solid goaltending.
Locked in a 1-1 game in the second period, Colorado’s Colin Wilson scored his 11th goal of the season, on a 5-on-3 power play off a nice pass from Alexander Kerfoot, and it was all Avalanche from there.
Sven Andrighetto notched his sixth marker of the season early in the third period, and Derick Brassard scored an empty-netter with under three minutes to play to put the game away.
Backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer posted 29 saves as Colorado won its fourth straight contest. Grubauer has stopped 131 of 135 shots in that span, and the team is playing some of its best hockey at the most crucial time of the season.
The win pushed Colorado past the Minnesota Wild (who lost 5-1 to Carolina) and Arizona Coyotes (lost 2-1 in a shootout to New Jersey) and into the second wild-card spot in the West. With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 3-2 win in Dallas, the Avalanche also gained ground on the Stars, the top wild-card team in the conference.
Colorado trails Dallas by just two points.
The Avalanche also received a goal Saturday from forward J.T. Compher, who deflected in a shot by Patrik Nemeth from the blue line.
“We need everybody stepping up in these big games,” said Compher. “We’ve checked well, and because we are playing such good defense, it’s leading to offense.
“Most of this group went through the same thing last year. We were fighting for a playoff spot for the last month or two. We know what it takes, and this past week we’ve been putting together games that are good enough to get wins.”
The Blackhawks (32-32-10, 74 points) have faded since a strong late-season push put them back in the playoff race.
Chicago has now lost three straight and fell six points behind Colorado. With postseason hopes dwindling fast, the Blackhawks can at least hope to play spoiler by beating the Avalanche, against whom they’ve split the first four games of the season series, on Sunday night back home.
The Blackhawks were 0-for-3 on the power play on Saturday and are just 1-for-24 over the last 10 games with the man advantage.
“I thought we could’ve gotten to the net more,” said Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton. “They scored goals by being at the net. Being at the net, pucks go in. It’s hard to score those because you have to pay a price to be there, but it’s easy because everyone can do it.
“They got a couple that way. We didn’t generate enough offensively, so that’s frustrating.”
Colorado star forward Mikko Rantanen (upper body) missed his first game of the season on Saturday and won’t be available in Chicago on Sunday. Captain Gabriel Landeskog (upper body) remains out, though head coach Jared Bednar said it’s possible he could return earlier than expected.
–Field Level Media
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