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DENVER (AP) – The Colorado Avalanche were playing out the string a year ago
With 19 games left in this season they’re battling for their first playoff berth in four years.”It’s a complete 180. We had nothing to play for last year at this time and this year we have everything to play
,” center Nathan MacKinnon said. ”We’re going to try to keep it going.”MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie each had a goal and an assist in the Avalanche’s 5-2 victory over the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night.Matt Nieto and Nikita Zadorov also scored, and Semyon Varlamov made 30 saves. The Avalanche have won 12 of 13 home games to tighten the Western Conference playoff race.Colorado tied Calgary with 73 points and moved within a point of Anaheim and St. Louis for the second wild card.”It’s huge,” Barrie said. ”I don’t think anybody picked us to be here. So here we are.”Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik scored, and David Rittich stopped 29 shots for Calgary, which couldn’t rally with its leading scorer out for the last 11:55.Johnny Gaudreau was tossed after drawing a high-sticking penalty on Colorado’s Blake Comeau. Gaudreau was given an embellishment minor on the play and then assessed a game misconduct after arguing with the officials from the penalty box.”I don’t know how you’re supposed to react to getting hit in the face,” Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan said of the embellishment call. ”When I lost half the vision in my left eye getting a stick in the face, I throw my head back. He was flying, 20 mph, whatever he’s going, and you get a stick in the face? Your head’s going back. I don’t get it. If I’m Johnny I’m mad, too.”You’re a guy that’s six, eight penalty minutes a year? Come on.”Gulutzan said Gaudreau was tossed after he made a gesture to the official while sitting in the penalty box.”You can’t make a gesture because officials don’t want to be shown up on TV
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,” Gulutzan said. ”That’s kind of the unwritten rule. He just kind of waved his hand.”Colorado took control with a four-goal flurry in the second period that turned a 2-0 deficit into a two-goal lead. MacKinnon’s 29th midway through the period started it, Zadorov tied it 1:08 later, and Barrie gave the Avs a 3-2 lead with his seventh goal at 12:41.Nieto made it 4-2 with 1:18 to go when Carl Soderberg threaded a pass through two defensemen to the front of the net for an easy tap-in.Duncan Siemens sealed it when he scored into an empty net with 17 seconds left in the game for his first NHL goal.The Flames had a late power play and pulled Rittich for a two-man advantage but couldn’t score. They have now fallen out of a playoff position with 17 games left.”We were saying we controlled our own destiny,” Calgary captain Mark Giordano said. ”Now we are getting to that point where if we don’t start stringing wins together we are going to need some help.”The Flames capitalized on a pair of Colorado turnovers to take an early two-goal. Backlund scored a short-handed goal at 14:19 of the first, and Frolik made it 2-0 with his 10th goal 2:41 into the second.”Having a 2-0 lead, that’s when you to try to put them away and then play sound defense,” Flames forward Matthew Tkachuck said. ”We let them back in the game right away.”NOTES: Avalanche coach Jared Bednar celebrated his 46th birthday on Wednesday. … Colorado was 1 of 7 on the power play. … Flames D Nick Shore, acquired from Ottawa on Monday, was scratched due to illness. … The Avalanche recalled G Spencer Martin from the AHL to serve as Varlamov’s backup. Jonathan Bernier and Andrew Hammond are in the concussion protocol. … Calgary is 6-4-1 on the second night of back-to-back games. … Comeau and Soderberg had two assists each for Colorado.UP NEXTFlames: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.Avalanche: Host Minnesota on Friday night. NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Buffalo Sabres saw defenseman Victor Antipin taken off the ice on a stretcher after being boarded. Then, they took it out on the Nashville Predators by scoring three goals on the ensuing 5-minute major.”We were able to make them pay a little bit,” Buffalo center Sam Reinhart said.Reinhart had a hat trick with Jack Eichel adding a career-high five assists as the Sabres stunned the NHL-leading Predators 7-4 Saturday night.”It’s never easy to see a teammate get injured
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,” Eichel said. ”It was a good job by our team responding and putting it on the scoreboard where it counts.”The Predators needed a win and a regulation loss by Winnipeg to clinch their first Central Division title, and a loss by Vegas in any fashion for the defending Western Conference champs for their first conference banner in the regular season. But Winnipeg beat Toronto 3-1, and the Predators played a sloppy game giving up a season-high in goals to the NHL’s last-place team.Despite a league-worst 60 points, the Sabres outshot Nashville from the start and chased goalie Pekka Rinne after he gave up six goals on 29 shots through two periods.Jason Pominville and Ryan O’Reilly also scored for Buffalo, and Eichel tied a franchise single-game record with his assists.P.K. Subban, Austin Watson, Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino scored for Nashville.The Sabres took control with the three goals – two by Reinhart – during those 5 minutes after Antipin was boarded by Nashville forward Scott Hartnell behind the Buffalo net at 14:09 of the second. Antipin was strapped to a backboard and taken off the ice on a stretcher.”The guys rallied around Victor and made a point to come out, and that was the difference in the game,” Buffalo coach Phil Housley said.Reinhart tied it up at 4 just 55 seconds into the power play, and he put Buffalo ahead at 17:18 with his second goal. Kyle Okposo scored his second of the night at 19:00 for the big lead.”You’re taught as a young kid obviously to finish your checks,” Hartnell said of his hit on Antipin. ”I wasn’t head-hunting. We were leading the game at that time. A 5-minute penalty, and they scored three quick ones and it’s a totally different ballgame. It’s just unfortunate. I feel really bad about it.”This game also marked the NHL debut of Nashville rookie Eeli Tolvanen
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, and coach Peter Laviolette gave Filip Forsberg the night off and replaced him with the Finn who set the KHL scoring record for an 18-year-old with Jokerit before being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.Pominville started the scoring 43 seconds in. Nashville led 2-1 at the end of the first with Subban scoring on a slap shot that deflected off Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen at 2:59 for a rare Nashville power-play goal. The Predators came into the game 3 of 49 on the man advantage since March 1.Nashville led 2-1 at 17:00 of the first on Watson’s goal, and Turris made it 3-1 a couple minutes into the second.O’Reilly scored at 5:45 of the second on the power play, and Okposo tied it up at 3 with a wrister from the slot off a rebound at 7:20. The Predators took a 4-3 lead at 12:50 when Bonino hopped over Johnson’s left leg and backhanded the puck into the net. Buffalo lots its challenge for goaltender interference with Johnson on his belly in the crease.Reinhart got his hat trick at 11:43 of the third. Buffalo finished 4 of 9 on the power play.”We came out flat the whole 60 minutes,” Nashville captain Roman Josi said. ”We never played up to our potential, and it just wasn’t good enough.”NOTES: Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson, Nashville’s leading goal scorer, played only 43 seconds of the second before going to the locker room to stay. The Predators had no update on his status after the game. … Eichel had Buffalo’s first five-point game since Thomas Vanek on Jan. 31, 2013, at Boston. Eichel now has 102 career assists. … Fisher played in his 1,100th career NHL game.UP NEXTSabres: Visit Toronto on Monday night.Predators: Visit Tampa Bay on Sunday.—
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