Avalanche clinches top seed in Western Conference with offensive explosion vs. Carolina

The first game between Colorado and Carolina featured two goals, including one on an empty net last month in Raleigh, N.C.

The rematch was a heavyweight shootout Saturday night at Ball Arena, with the Avalanche skating off a 7-4 winner in a wild one over the Hurricanes.

Colorado flexed its offensive muscle against the Eastern Conference’s second-best team to clinch the Central Division title and the Western Conference’s No. 1 playoff seed.

It was goals galore for the Avs, who were held scoreless five weeks ago in Carolina. Centers Nathan MacKinnon and J.T. Compher led the way on Saturday with two goals apiece, and winger Mikko Rantanen had three points on a goal and two assists as Colorado reached an NHL-high 116 points — just two shy of the club’s single-season record.

The Avs (55-14-6), who extended their President’s Trophy lead over the Florida Panthers to four points, have seven remaining games.

The Hurricanes (48-20-8) clawed back from a 4-0 deficit and got within 5-3 to begin the third period.

Rantanen scored his team-leading 36th goal 4:08 into the third period to give the Avs a 6-3 lead. But the Hurricanes, once again, clawed back. They put their fourth puck behind goalie Darcy Kuemper at 6:28 from Andrei Svechnikov to get within two goals for the second time.

Colorado got back ahead by three at 11:43 when MacKinnon used a spin move to his backhand for his second goal of the game.

The Avs got goals from Compher (power play) and MacKinnon to take a 2-0 lead out of the first period. The lead grew to 4-0 within the first 2:21 of the second frame. Compher collected his second power-play goal at 1:59 off a back-door feed from Andre Burakovsky, and on the ensuing shift, just 22 seconds later, newly signed college free-agent forward Ben Meyers scored in his NHL debut.

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