Resurgent Blues look to finish with a flourish

St. Louis (40-31-10) at Colorado (32-44-4), 5:00 p.m. EDT

DENVER (AP) — The St. Louis Blues have completed their charge
from last place in the Western Conference to their first playoff
berth in five years.

In Sunday’s regular-season finale at Colorado, the Blues have a
chance for one final move with a win over the current occupant
of the West cellar.

With a victory Sunday, St. Louis (40-31-10) would jump from
eighth in the West to sixth place and a first-round matchup with
Vancouver. A loss would leave the Blues in eighth and facing
Presidents’ Trophy-winning San Jose.

It looked unlikely they’d occupy any playoff spot when they were
at the bottom of the conference Feb. 15, but St. Louis went
17-6-3 in its next 26 games to post the NHL’s best second-half
record (24-9-7).

The Blues clinched the final postseason berth Friday night with
a 3-1 victory over visiting Columbus, coupled with Nashville’s
loss in Minnesota. Keith Tkachuk, who along with Barret Jackman
is one of two players remaining from the 2003-04 playoff club,
had two goals and an assist as St. Louis also reached 40 wins
for the first time in five seasons.

“It’s just a special moment,” said Tkachuk, who has seven points
in the last three games. “This is an incredible feeling to see
what we went through over the last couple of years.”

The Blues enter Sunday’s finale with an 8-1-1 overall record and
a 4-1-1 mark on the road since March 20. They have alternated
wins and losses in their last four road games against the
Avalanche, including a 3-1 defeat Nov. 26.

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This season’s Colorado club is a far cry from the one that
reached the playoffs 11 times and won two Stanley Cups since
moving from Quebec in 1995-96, and will finish last in the West
for the first since relocating.

The Avalanche (32-44-4) have one win in their last 12 games
overall, and have dropped six straight at home for the first
time in Colorado. Their 68 points are third-fewest in the NHL
behind the New York Islanders (61) and Tampa Bay (66).

Colorado’s league-worst offense, which has scored 190 goals, can
take much of the blame for the woeful season. The Avalanche have
been outscored 39-16 in their last 12 games.

Peter Budaj has a 0.95 goals-against average in his last four
starts, but only one win to show for it. He allowed a trick shot
by Dallas’ Mike Ribeiro to trickle in during a shootout loss
Thursday night, and in a 1-0 overtime defeat Saturday to
Vancouver, the winning shot went off defenseman Scott Hannan’s

“You don’t want to point fingers at being unlucky,” said Budaj,
who has allowed eight goals in consecutive losses to St. Louis.
“Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t.”

The Blues will likely give Chris Mason his 33rd consecutive
start Sunday. He stopped 23 shots in the teams’ last meeting, a
4-1 home victory for St. Louis on Feb. 7.

Mason is 5-3-0 with a 1.76 GAA in eight lifetime starts against