DENVER — The Colorado Avalanche have gone from pushover to powerhouse in less than a season, and their recent streak is evoking memories of past glory.
Nathan MacKinnon, Erik Johnson and Mikko Rantanen had a goal and an assist each, Jonathan Bernier made 27 saves and the streaking Avalanche beat the New York Rangers 3-1 on Saturday for their ninth straight win.
The Avalanche have won eight straight at home and haven’t lost since Arizona beat them on Dec. 27. Colorado has outscored opponents 37-15 in the last nine games and has not trailed during the winning streak, which has moved the team into playoff position in the Western Conference.
“We can’t get comfortable,” MacKinnon said. “That is why we are fighting every night because we need these points. It’s so tight, the division is so tight.”
Colorado has won nine in a row for the first time since Oct. 10-28, 2000, the last season it won the Stanley Cup. That was during a run of success that brought the Avalanche two championships and six conference finals in seven seasons.
All of their nine wins have come against teams in playoff position.
“They’re feeling it right now, there’s no question,” Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. “Their top guys are playing really well and make a difference for them.”
Pavel Buchnevich scored and Lundqvist stopped 34 shots for New York. The Rangers were missing five players who would normally be in the lineup.
“It’s part of being a pro. You’ve got to deal with stuff like that,” forward J.T. Miller said. “Unfortunately it happens, but we have some good players we can rely on to step in and play well.”
Colorado took a 2-0 lead with goals by Johnson in the first period and MacKinnon early in the second. MacKinnon used Rangers defenseman Steven Kampfer as a screen to beat Lundqvist.
MacKinnon has goals in five straight games and has recorded at least one point in each game of Colorado’s streak. He is second in the NHL in scoring with 59 points (23 goals, 36 assists).
MacKinnon’s goal turned into the game-winner, giving him seven this season.
“It wasn’t like I scored with 10 seconds left to put us over the top,” MacKinnon said. “I have been scoring a few goals lately, and when you put the puck in the back of the net and we get wins sometimes you get a game-winner.”
The Rangers cut the deficit in half when Buchnevich tipped in a pass from Mats Zuccarello at 6:55 of the second. It was just the third power-play goal the Avalanche have allowed in the last 18 games.
New York had several chances to tie it in the third period. Nick Holden and Jimmy Vesey whiffed on a loose puck in the crease early in the frame, and Vesey had a shot ring off the crossbar in the last four minutes.
Rick Nash nearly got the equalizer with 11.9 seconds left with a high shot to the short side, but Bernier made the save. Rantanen scored into the empty net with less than a second left.
“After a real good start at the beginning of the third they brought it up a notch and we had a tough time there,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “We had a couple of looks at the end but weren’t able to score.”
Rangers: Visit the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday night.
Avalanche: Begin a six-game trip at Toronto on Monday night.