ANAHEIM — Five hours before taking to the ice to face the Anaheim Ducks in the final game of the regular season, the Avalanche Sunday afternoon clinched the Central Division championship and was locked into a first-round playoff matchup with the Minnesota Wild.
The NHL released the first-round schedules Sunday night, and the Avalanche-Wild series will open with Game 1 Thursday and Game 2 Saturday in the Pepsi Center.
It all happened because the Detroit Red Wings beat the reeling Blues 3-0 in St. Louis, leaving the Blues and Avalanche even at 111 points in the standings. The loss was the sixth in a row for the Blues, and Colorado had the tiebreaker on the basis of more regulation and overtime wins. Later, the Avalanche lost to the Ducks 3-2 in overtime, finishing the season with a 52-22-8 record and 112 points.
After arriving at the Honda Center Sunday, Avalanche coach Patrick Roy noted that the Avs had been successful against the Wild in the regular season.
"I think we picked up nine of 10 points against these guys, and that's pretty impressive," Roy said. "I'm saying that we're going to have to continue to play the same kind of hockey we did against these guys. Obviously, we're going to have to look at some video and prepare ourselves. It's a team that played really well. Everybody thought at the end they were in trouble, but this is a team that seems to find a way to come back and they made the playoffs."
The Wild had gone 6-0-1 in its last seven and was 43-26-12 for the season heading into its Sunday night game against Nashville at home.
So while killing time before the Sunday night game, the Avalanche claimed its first division championship since 2003, when Colorado won the Northwest Division in Roy's final season as a player. That was the end of a run of nine consecutive division titles, with Quebec winning the Northeast in 1994-95 before Colorado claimed championships in the Pacific (three times) and Northwest (five times).
"I was watching here and there and towards the end, when I saw it was 3-0, it was nice," Roy said. "You always think you're going to play tonight and need to win the game to win the division."
Quebec had won the Adams Division in 1985-86, so this means the Nordiques/Avalanche has 11 division titles in the NHL — in four divisions.
The Blues' loss rendered relatively insignificant the Avalanche Sunday night game. Anaheim had secured the best record in the Western Conference on Saturday night, when the Ducks beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in a shootout. The Ducks needed one point to claim the No. 1 spot and was guaranteed of that when the game was tied at the end of regulation, but added a second point with the shootout victory. That prevented the Avalanche from having a chance Sunday to go from worst (15th) last season to first in the conference this season, but the Colorado turnaround in Roy's first season as coach remains one of the most remarkable stories in the league in 2013-14.
After the regular season ended with the overtime loss to the Ducks, Roy said, "I guess we're going to look at it at the end, when everything's going to be over and probably realize that was a a very special year. But right now, our focus is to prepare ourselves for Minny. I'm not looking to put things into perspective. We want to be ready for Game One, and I thought that's great what our guys did here tonight. They could have taken it easy, but they worked hard and they played hard and certainly showed the character of our team."
Roy said of the Colorado fans: "Our fans have been one of the reasons why we had so much success, because of the support that we had and it's going to be even more fun. The message is I'm glad that they've been patient with us and now we hope they're going to come and cheer for us during the playoffs. We need them, they're very important to us."
For several weeks, though, it had looked as if a Colorado-Chicago first-round matchup was inevitable before St. Louis' collapse and Colorado's surge changed that. So what did Roy have to say to the Chicago fans who bought tickets to the first round and had planned to show up in red at the Pepsi Center?
"Good luck on eBay," Roy said.
Terry Frei: email@example.com