ST. LOUIS – The 633rd consecutive start by Jay Bouwmeester, the NHL’s resident iron man, carried extra significance.
Besides having the longest current streak in professional sports, the defenseman added by the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline is about to get his first taste of the playoffs.
“You want to have success,” Bouwmeester said after the Blues beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-1 on Tuesday night and clinched a playoff berth with two games to spare. “It’s fun winning. We’ve had a pretty good stretch here.”
Chris Stewart reached career milestones of 100 goals and 100 assists, and Brian Elliott had to make just 17 saves two nights after getting yanked in a 5-3 loss at Colorado that squandered the Blues’ first chance at clinching. St. Louis has won 10 of 13, all but one game after getting Bouwmeester from the Flames.
“We grabbed it big-time (Tuesday),” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We could have scored 10 goals (Tuesday). We missed empty nets; we shot it over the net. The best part was the way we defended.”
St. Louis, which entered the game needing a point to qualify, scored two power play goals for the first time in 32 games since Feb. 15 in the home-and-home rematch.
“It’s a great time of the year,” Stewart said. “We’ve been battling for the last month, and the race isn’t over.”
Patrik Berglund and Andy McDonald beat Semyon Varlamov on consecutive shots in the second period to make it 3-0. Together, that duo had mustered two assists in 14 games.
The Blues have made the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2003-04. They’ve won four in a row at home to match their season best, taking the first three by 2-1 scores, and were in fifth place in the Western Conference and a point ahead of San Jose – at home against the Stars later Tuesday.
“It’s one little item checked off our list,” captain David Backes said. “We’ve had a pretty good run to get to where we need to get.”
Cody McLeod scored his eighth of the season and fifth in five games for the Avalanche, who are an NHL-worst 3-16-4 on the road.
Varlamov made 31 saves.
“They were hungry (Tuesday night),” Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said of the Blues. “They were hungrier, there’s no question.”
The Blues had plenty of offense without top line forward David Perron, demoted to the fourth line after a giveaway in Colorado.
“Ask a fourth-line question, and this is going to be real short,” Hitchcock joked at the start of his postgame briefing. Then he said, “He didn’t play very good. Pretty simple. I was very impressed with his response.”
Stewart’s power-play goal opened the scoring, and he assisted on the third goal against the team that traded him to St. Louis in 2010-11. His second goal in three games and team-leading 18th overall came on the deflection of Jordan Leopold’s shot from the point, giving the defenseman his first point in 13 games since joining the Blues in a trade deadline deal with Buffalo.
Colorado penalty killers had been 10-for-10 the previous four games, including three chances by the Blues on Sunday, but paid for Jamie McGinn’s interference call.
Berglund got his first goal in eight games with a deflection on a power play early in the second, with Leopold gaining another assist. McDonald made it 3-0 with his first goal in seven games, keeping the puck in the zone and then charging to the net for a return pass from Vladimir Sobotka before converting on the backhand at 5:13.
Colorado got on the board with just its second shot of the second period. The Blues appeared to relax on a delayed tripping call to McDonald in the offensive zone, and the Avalanche got an odd-man rush with McLeod beating Elliott with a high drive to the glove side at 15:13.
Before his goal spurt, McLeod totaled three assists in 24 games.
“I got bumped up to (Ryan) O’Reilly’s line,” McLeod said. “I guess you’re going to get more chances playing with them, and I’ve just been going to the net and kind of getting rewarded.”