DENVER (AP) — Tyson Jost was barely off the ice and already wearing a burgundy shirt commemorating the Colorado Avalanche winning the Presidents’ Trophy.
Guess they had an inkling.
Jost scored two of Colorado’s five second-period goals as the Avalanche clinched the West Division and the top overall seed in the NHL playoffs with a 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.
One goal down. Now the real work begins.
“The playoffs are a different animal. Everybody knows that,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “No one’s going to look at us and say, ‘Yep, they won the Presidents’ Trophy. We’re going to roll over everyone.’ It’s not going to happen. It’s going to be a tough grind. It can put a target on your back, but we have to be comfortable with that.”
Colorado and Vegas both finished with 82 points, but the Avs earned the division crown and the Presidents’ Trophy — awarded to the team with the best regular-season mark — due to more regulation wins. This was the first time the Avalanche have captured the Presidents’ Trophy since 2000-01, when they went on to hoist the Stanley Cup.
“We achieved the first goal we had this year,” said Mikko Rantanen, who assisted on both of Jost’s scores to give him a team-best 66 points (30 goals, 36 assists). “Everybody knows what the next box is, so we have to start working on that.”
The journey begins Monday with a first-round series against St. Louis, which wound up with the fourth seed in the West.
“It’s a veteran team,” Jost said of the Blues. “We’re going to have to come out hard and be prepared.”
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky also scored in the pivotal second period. Backup Jonas Johansson made 21 saves to help the Avalanche finish 7-1 against the Kings this season.
The Avalanche have been playing at a high level at home, going 16-0-1 in their last 17 at Ball Arena. The 17 straight home games with at least a point ties the club record set in 2003.
Sean Walker scored for the Kings as they wrapped up their season on an 0-4-1 skid. Troy Grosenick stopped 38 shots.
Los Angeles finished 21-28-7 and 49 points.
“There was a point where we really believed we could be a team that was going to push for it and then it slipped away on us,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “The belief system slipped away.”
Down 1-0 heading into the second, Colorado quickly found its rhythm. Jost led the way by scoring twice within a 1:52 span to give the Avalanche a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The action got a little heated late in the second when Kings forward Brendan Lemieux collided with Avs defenseman Samuel Girard near mid-ice. Girard’s fellow defenseman, Ryan Graves, took exception and immediately dropped the gloves to square off against Lemieux.
Johansson stepped in for starter Philipp Grubauer, who shut out the Kings in a 6-0 win Wednesday. Bednar hasn’t played Grubauer in back-to-back games all season and didn’t want to start now, despite the importance.
Johansson rewarded his faith by improving to 5-1-1 with Colorado since being acquired in a deal with Buffalo on March 20.
Next up, the playoffs.
“We set high expectations,” Bednar said. “I don’t think we should shy away from trying to achieve them, and the Presidents’ Trophy is one of them.”
Kings forward Drake Rymsha played nearly 13 minutes in his NHL debut. It was against the same franchise his father, Andy, skated for in 1991-92 when the team was located in Quebec.
“To play my first game against the same organization my dad played for is kind of a crazy coincidence,” said Rymsha, who spent most of the season on the taxi squad. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
McLellan was pleased for him.
“He’s kind of an unsung hero around our group,” McLellan said.
Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon sat out Thursday for the fourth time in five games due to a lower-body injury. The team went 4-0 in the games he missed.
“We have such a deep roster that we have guys who can fill spots,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “Obviously, we miss him.”
THIS & THAT
Avs D Conor Timmins had two assists. … D Cale Makar had an assist to finish with 44 points in 44 games. He joined Steve Duchesne (82 points in 82 game with Quebec in ’92-93) as the only defensemen in franchise history to average a point-per-game (minimum 40 games). … Goaltender Devan Dubnyk remains on the league’s COVID-19 protocol list.
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