It all comes down to this: Blues face Avs to decide final wild card spot

A year ago, a game with as much meaning as the one Saturday night at Pepsi Center would have seemed improbable.

After how the 2016-17 campaign went for the Avalanche, fighting for a postseason berth seemed years away, not a year away

But the improbable has become reality has become in essence a Game 7 to make the playoffs for the Avalanche.

The Avalanche (42-30-9) can erase the taste of a 48-point season with a win over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night.

The game will decide who earns the second wild card in the Western Conference and a first-round date with the President Trophy winners, the Nashville Predators.

“It will be fun,” Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said after Thursday’s 4-2 loss in San Jose. “I’m not surprised it comes down to Game 82 this year. Pepsi Center will be buzzing and so will we.”

Colorado had a chance to clinch the playoffs on its three-game swing through California but went 0-2-1. The Avalanche blew a two-goal, third-period lead in Anaheim on Sunday and lost in overtime, and then couldn’t keep up with Los Angeles or San Jose in the next two games.

The Blues also could have made Saturday’s game a warmup for the postseason. They surged back into the playoff picture by winning eight of nine at the end of March but followed that with a four-game losing streak that knocked them down in the standings

The last loss was a soul-crushing one Wednesday against Chicago. St. Louis led 3-1 at home at one point but the Blackhawks, playing out the string, tied it in the third and won it with a power-play goal with 8.5 seconds left in regulation.

If the Blues had hung on for those 8.5 seconds and get to overtime, they would have earned at least a point. They avenged that loss with a 4-1 win in Chicago on Friday night.

It was the first time in 15 games goaltender Jake Allen didn’t start, giving way to backup Carter Hutton. He made 19 saves for the Blues (44-31-6), who jumped over Colorado into the second wild card with 94 points and set up Saturday’s showdown.

St. Louis has a slight advantage over the Avalanche heading into the season finale. The Blues only need to avoid a loss in regulation to hold onto the second wild card. If the two teams end up with the same amount of points St. Louis holds the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series.

A Colorado win in regulation will give it 95 points and the playoff date with Nashville.

St. Louis coach Mike Yeo’s gamble of playing Hutton in Friday’s game paid off. He wanted to rest Allen and have him at his best, so he sent the No. 1 goaltender ahead to Denver early Friday so he wouldn’t get in late like the rest of the team.

“As far as Jake goes, I think this is a much-needed break for him,” Yeo told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s been an awful long time since he’s had two days between a game. He’s played an awful lot of hockey and so it gives him a chance to really collect some much-needed rest and get ready for (Saturday).”