Avalanche hold on, regain sole possession of final wildcard in West

In a battle for one lone playoff spot, a massive win by one contending team often demands an equal or greater response from another.

It’s either that or things get dicey.

With Arizona winning 1-0 against the Chicago Blackhawks, they drew level with the Colorado Avalanche on points for the second and final wildcard in the Western Conference. The win threw the ball back in the Avs’ court, a high-stakes game of HORSE that’s drawing ever closer to an epic conclusion after narrowly holding on to a 4-3 win against the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday Night Hockey.

Colorado seemed up to the task right out of the gate, finding goals from Matt Calvert and Nathan MacKinnon inside the first 10 minutes of the opening period to jump out to a 2-0 lead through the first 20.

Winners of six of their past 10 outings, and with points in their previous five, the Avs kept their foot on the gas and Tyson Barrie snatched a 3-0 lead early into the second period. Barrie’s goal was his record-breaking 73rd with the franchise, ushering him past Sandis Ozolinsh for most by a defenseman.

The Golden Knights entered the night needing a single point to clinch their second berth into the playoffs for the second time in their two-year existence. Despite not having Marc-Andre Fleury due to injury, the Malcolm Subban-led Knights had done an admirable job holding the fort in his absence with 10 wins in their past 13 games.

And like a team running hot, Vegas stormed back following Barrie’s goal, striking twice through Paul Stastny and Reilly Smith to pull them to within a goal.

Gabriel Bourque restored the two-goal cushion late in the period, a goal that survived a challenge for goaltender interference.

Vegas poured it on in the third, firing 15 shots on Philipp Grubauer (who ended his night with 34 saves). One beat him — an Alex Tuch swat out of mid-air that made for a nail-biting finish for the Avs.

Vegas had several chances when they pulled Subban as a full-frontal assault came the way of the Avalanche net. Adding to the drama was a penalty to the Avalanche with eight seconds left gave Vegas one final chance.

This is how close Jonathan Marchessault came to tying the game, grabbing a point that would have snagged a playoff spot for the Golden Knights.

Arizona’s win and Colorado’s response only adds to the hype train rolling into their meeting on Friday, a game that could very well decide the race if Colorado is to win or one that will write another chapter if Arizona can continue to defy all expectations.

They don’t get bigger than that down the stretch.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

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