By PAT GRAHAM, Associated Press
DENVER (AP) — Cam Atkinson scored three goals and Steve Mason stopped 35 shots, helping the Columbus Blue Jackets put an end to Colorado's postseason aspirations — and put San Jose in the playoffs — with a 5-2 win over the Avalanche on Thursday night.
Rick Nash added two goals for the suddenly surging Blue Jackets, who have won four of five but are still guaranteed to finish with the worst record in the NHL.
This was a crushing loss for the Avalanche as they were officially eliminated from the playoff picture. As it was, they would've needed help — and lots of it — to crash the party.
David Jones and Paul Stastny scored for a rested Colorado squad that hadn't played in nearly a week, only to start the biggest game of the season sluggish, trailing by two goals heading into the final period.
Mason got the start in goal after Allen York tweaked his groin in the morning practice. This was Mason's first appearance since being struck in the mask by a shot from a teammate during a pregame skate on March 29.
And once again, Mason bottled up the Avalanche, making one glove save after another. He stonewalled Colorado last month as well for his only shutout of the season.
Mason took quite a bit of punishment in the third period.
First, he took a slap shot off the mask and then later absorbed a vicious hit from Jamie McGinn, who was shoved into the goaltender by defenseman Jack Johnson. Mason stayed down on the ice as the trainer came out to check on him, only to pop back up, grab his mask and skate back into the goal.
The Blue Jackets easily killed off the penalty to Johnson.
Fighting for their playoff lives, the Avalanche floundered. They pulled Semyon Varlamov with just under 4 minutes remaining, but couldn't score.
With 64 seconds remaining, Atkinson cemented the win with an empty-net goal.
Colorado entered the game trailing San Jose by four points for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Now, they have no shot to catch the Sharks. Colorado struggled down the stretch, dropping five of six to miss the playoffs for a second straight season.
Nash scored two nifty goals, including one on a wrist shot during a 5-on-3 opportunity in the second period that gave the Blue Jackets a lead they wouldn't surrender.
The Columbus captain now has 29 goals, one away from reaching the 30 plateau for the seventh time in his last eight seasons.
So good of late, Varlamov turned in a clunker as he allowed four goals on 23 shots.
The young Russian goaltender came into the game as one of the hottest goalies in the league since mid-February, giving up less than two goals a game.
Darryl Boyce and Atkinson teamed up to stake the Blue Jackets to a 1-0 lead early in the opening period. Boyce hit a streaking Atkinson in stride on a long pass up the middle and he was off to the races. Atkinson faked left and then beat Varlamov to the right.
The Avalanche tied it up 3 minutes later when Jones tipped in a pinpoint pass from McGinn on an odd-man rush.
Just before the end of a hard-hitting first period, Nash knocked in a rebound that had trickled behind Varlamov.
McGinn was in the lineup after missing a game with a back injury. He has 13 points in 16 games since the Avalanche acquired him at the trade deadline from San Jose, the team Colorado was chasing.
Asked before the game if it's salt in the wound that the team he came from is ahead of the Avalanche, McGinn simply said: "I guess so. But I can't worry about that stuff."
Colorado captain Milan Hejduk is on the fence about returning for a 14th season.
Hejduk is the last remaining player to the Avalanche's Stanley Cup days, but this has been a down season. He has just 14 goals this season.
Entering this year, Hejduk had reached the 20-goal mark in 11 straight seasons, which tied Joe Sakic's franchise record.
"We'll see after the season what the options will be," said Hejduk, who's second in franchise history in games (990), goals (371) and points (794). "At some point, you have to hang them up. We'll see."
NOTES: The Blue Jackets finished up a three-game road swing with a 2-1 mark. They close out the season against the New York Islanders on Saturday. ... Colorado closes the season by hosting Nashville on Saturday.
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