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Mar 31, 2024 2:56 pm

Avalanche face Blue Jackets, continue pursuit of division crown

nathan mackinnon

Now that the Colorado Avalanche have officially qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a seventh consecutive season, they can focus on their next order of business.

Winning a Central Division title.

The Avalanche will continue working toward that goal when they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night.

Colorado (47-21-6, 100 points) enters the week three points behind the Central Division-leading Dallas Stars with eight games left for the Avalanche and seven for the Stars, including their final meeting of the season next Sunday in Denver.

Colorado ended a two-game skid with a 7-4 win against the Nashville Predators on Saturday, which officially clinched a playoff berth.

“That’s the goal, right? Get in the playoffs and give yourselves a chance,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “So it just shows the dedication, the hard work that all the guys are putting into every season and trying to keep improving from the season before. Yep, feels good.”

Nathan MacKinnon continued his season-long tear with two goals and two assists against the Predators to retake the NHL points lead with 127 (47 goals, 80 assists), one point ahead of Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov (42 goals, 84 assists).

MacKinnon had 11 goals and 16 assists in March, the third time this season he reached double digits in both categories over a full month.

Cale Makar had a goal and two assists against Nashville, moving him into a tie with Steve Duchesne (1992-93) for the franchise record for assists by a defenseman over a season (62).

The Avalanche played their second straight game without their third-leading goal scorer, Valeri Nichushkin, because of a lower-body injury.

Nichushkin did not initially travel with the team but could join them later on the three-game trip that also includes stops in Minnesota and Edmonton.

Colorado also lost defenseman Sean Walker to an upper-body injury against Nashville.

“Hopefully, we get good news,” Bednar said of Walker’s injury.

The Blue Jackets (24-38-12, 60 points) played Colorado on March 22 and lost 6-1, part of a six-game losing streak that ended with a 4-3 shootout win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.

“We’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing all year, promoting winning habits,” Blue Jackets coach Pascal Vincent said. “It’s about effort, managing the buck, tracking. It’s all of those little details that we’ve been building all year. Now the quality of our opponents is pretty intense for the rest of the season. As far as we are concerned, it’s creating winning habits.”

It’s unclear if the Blue Jackets will have forward Boone Jenner back against the Avalanche. He did not play against the Penguins because of an illness. Jenner leads Columbus with 22 goals and is tied for third with 35 points

The Blue Jackets recalled forward Cameron Butler from Cleveland of the American Hockey League and he drove himself from Cleveland to Columbus, arriving shortly before the game on Saturday.

He ended up playing just one shift in the second period.

“I don’t remember any of it,” Butler said of his drive to the arena.

Daniil Tarasov is expected to start in goal against Colorado after Elvis Merzlikins made 30 saves against the Penguins and stopped three attempts in the five-round shootout. Tarasov and Merzlikins have alternated the past nine starts.

Tarasov has never faced the Avalanche in his three-year NHL career.

–Field Level Media

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