DENVER (AP) Chris Stewart savored his first NHL hat trick, both for what it did for his team and how far it showed he has come since a brief demotion to the minors last October.
Stewart completed the hat trick with a penalty shot, and Milan Hejduk scored twice in his return from a seven-week injury layoff to help the Colorado Avalanche beat the St. Louis Blues 7-3 on Saturday night.
“It will be one of my lifetime memories,” a beaming Stewart said. “I’ll never forget it.”
Stewart was speaking from the perspective of a player given a vivid reminder of how tenuous a career in the NHL can be. After making an Opening Day roster for the first time, an ineffective Stewart was demoted Oct. 20 to Lake Erie of the AHL before being recalled after a three-day stay.
“I’m kind of thankful that happened. It was definitely an eye opener,” he said. “You’ve got to work for everything you’re going to get in this league and it definitely made me that more hungry. I’ve still got some memories of the bus rides in Cleveland. I love the way they treat the players up here. I’m not going to be satisfied. I’m trying to get better every game.”
Certainly, he was at his best Saturday in boosting his season total to 24 goals.
“He’s a big man,” Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. “He’s got good speed and he’s got strength. When he skates, he’s very difficult to contain. And he’s playing with confidence right now. You can see that.”
Stewart’s speed set up his final score. He had crossed the blue line on a breakaway when beaten Blues defenseman Erik Johnson tripped him in a desperate attempt to stop him, leading to the penalty shot. Stewart slowly skated down the middle and put a shot into the upper right corner above Ty Conklin’s glove hand with 57 seconds remaining in the second period.
“I noticed he was deep in the net, so I knew I had to make a move to get it up,” Stewart said. “I went glove-hand, and it went in.”
The hat trick was the first by an Avalanche player since Hejduk had one on Dec. 9, 2007. The 199-game span was the longest active drought in the NHL.
Craig Anderson made 39 saves in his team-record 20th consecutive start for Colorado. The Avalanche beat St. Louis for the third time in three meetings this season, snapping the Blues’ season-high winning streak at five games.
St. Louis goalie Chris Mason, who was in the net for each of the Blues’ wins during their five-game run, was pulled in favor of Conklin early in the second period after giving up four goals on 15 shots.
“You definitely have to give them credit, but we didn’t play up to our standard,” Mason said. “They simply outworked us. We knew these guys were a hard-working team, they’ve been playing that way all year, so it’s on us for being outworked. We got away from our game.”
The Blues struck first, getting a goal from David Perron at 8:35 of the first.
But in a matter of 11 seconds, the game turned.
That’s how long it took for the Avs to tie it up on Hejduk’s first goal, the catalyst in a string of five straight goals by the Avalanche. Hejduk, sidelined since Jan. 16 because of knee and back problems, took a pass from Peter Mueller as he skated in from the right wing and knocked a shot past Mason.
Just 1:12 later, Colorado took the lead on Stewart’s first goal. From behind the net, Paul Stastny passed the puck to Stewart in the slot and he one-timed it into the net.
Stewart and Hejduk then scored 1:18 apart in the second to make it 4-1. With an assist from Stewart, T.J. Galiardi gave the Avs a 5-1 advantage with a backhander at 10:07.
“It felt good. I felt good. The whole team played well,” Hejduk said. “I thought we skated well. We had a lot of jump. We had a lot of scoring chances. It was a fun game to come back.”
St. Louis finally broke up Colorado’s flurry with Alexander Steen’s goal at 10:38 of the second. Steen scored a second goal at 4:23 of the third when he redirected Carlo Colaiacovo’s shot past Anderson.
Matt Hendricks completed the scoring for Colorado with an empty-net goal.
NOTES: Colorado defenseman Ruslan Salei left the game in the second period with what was described as a torso injury and did not return. … Mueller has points in each of his first three games with Colorado since being acquired Wednesday in a trade with Phoenix. … The Blues failed to score at least four goals for the first time in six games. … The game marked the 100th meeting between the Blues and Avalanche/Nordiques, who lead the series 45-43-11-1.