DENVER • In the pre-game address at Pepsi Center Saturday, the matchup between the Blues and Colorado was described as the most anticipated game of the season from the Avalanche perspective.
The same could perhaps be said from the visiting vantage point as well.
In an afternoon matinee that was one of the few Blues' games this season with a playoff feel, the club prevailed 2-1 over Colorado in front of a sellout crowd.
The Blues extended their winning streak to four games, also improving to 17-0-1 against the Central Division, while the Avalanche saw the end of their four-game winning streak. The club's lead in the Central Division widened to four points.
David Backes and Patrik Berglund scored for the Blues, who ran their record to 3-0 against the Avalanche this season. Ryan Miller made 26 saves to check off the Avs as the final NHL team that he has beaten, improving his record to 4-0 as a Blue.
"I thought we were really focused and good," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who pulled into a tie with Ron Wilson for No. 7 on the NHL's list of all-time regular-season coaching victories with 648. "It was a hard hockey game. Both teams are playing at the top of their game right now, so it was a hard hockey game. It's two teams trying to get their game ready for playoffs. Both teams knew what was at stake here and both teams played their heart out."
A second-period goal by Backes was followed up by one from Berglund with 16:07 left in the third period for a 2-0 Blues' lead. Colorado's PA Parenteau cut the Avalanche's deficit to 2-1 with 11:03 remaining in regulation, but Miller turned aside 12 of 13 third-period shots.
The Avalanche came out hitting Saturday, leading 18-5 in that department after 20 minutes, including several against defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
Colorado played without St. Louis Paul Stastny, who was on the ice for only one 40-second shift before leaving the game with a back injury.
The Avs were forced to make changes up front with the loss of Stastny, but both clubs moved some parts around after a scoreless first period.
On their second and third lines, the Blues swapped Vladimir Tarasenko and Steve Ott on the right side. Hitchcock did not touch the top line of Backes, T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen and that proved to be a wise decision in the second period.
About seven minutes into the period, Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog crushed the post with a shot, the closest either team had come to opening the scoring.
That changed less than a minute later.
In two previous meetings with Colorado this season, in which the Blues outscored the Avalanche 11-4, Backes and Oshie posted five points apiece. They teamed up for the first goal of the game on some more highlight-reel stickhandling by Oshie.
Skating down the left side, Oshie danced through the Colorado defense, then seized an opening in the slot and sent a pass to Backes for a wide-open look at the right post.
"I figured once I cut in, and the puck went a little further than I wanted it to, I figured someone was going to be there," Oshie said. "But no one was there, so I lunged for it and luckily Backes was streaming down the backside."
The captain finished off the play for his 21st goal of the season, his first in eight games. That gave Backes three goals and three assists and Oshie six assists in three games against the Avalanche this season.
"It's crazy what he does out there and I'm the beneficiary," Backes said. "I'm just going to the net like I'm supposed to, and he makes a fantastic play. Then the vision as he's going down to find me backdoor, that's 100 percent his goal all the way."
The secondary assist by Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, the former Av, gave him nine points (4 goals, 5 assists) in 12 games against his old team.
The Blues led 7:04 into the middle frame and had a chance to extend their lead, but Maxim Lapierre was stymied by Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov on a breakaway.
Colorado defenseman Jan Hejda nearly tied the score late in the period, but clanked another post, the Avs' second of the game. The Blues know that feeling well, leading the NHL with 44 hit posts this season.
In the third period, though, Berglund found the top corner of the net on a remarkable individual play. He gloved the puck, set it on the ice, and all in one motion turned and ripped a shot past Varlamov.
"I seriously don't know what happened," Berglund said. "I turned around and shot. Right when I turned, (the defenseman) kind of backed off, so just threw one on net and it was a better shot then I expected obviously.
Berglund's 12th goal of the season, his fourth in his last four games, gave the Blues a 2-0 lead with 16:07 left in regulation.
The Avalanche pulled to within 2-1 on Parenteau's 14th goal of the season with 11:03 remaining. Matt Duchene worked around Blues forward Steve Ott, and Parenteau pumped in the loose puck.
From his knees, Landeskog put a point-blank shot on net with 6:05 left, but in one of his 26 saves, Miller blocked it with his mask.
"I think we played a solid road game," Berglund said. "Obviously when they got that goal, they got a lot of energy off that. But overall, on the bench, we were positive. We have a good feeling on that bench, knowing that we can protect a lead."