NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nathan MacKinnon had three goals and an assist as the Colorado Avalanche beat the Nashville Predators 4-3 on Friday night to win the Central Division title.
Devon Toews also scored and had an assist and Alexandar Georgiev made 18 saves for Colorado, which finished a point ahead of Dallas in the division. Mikko Rantanen had two assists.
Kiefer Sherwood scored twice, Luke Evangelista added one and Kevin Lankinen made 30 saves for the Predators.
With 1:42 remaining in the third, MacKinnon skated into the Nashville zone on the right side before snapping a wrist shot by Lankinen. His third goal was his 42nd of the season, setting a career high. The hat trick was his first of the season and fourth of his career.
“Obviously, I had some good looks tonight and managed to find the back of the net,” MacKinnon said.
The reigning Stanley Cup-winning Avalanche will begin their championship defense against Seattle in the first round of the playoffs. They will do so without captain Gabriel Landeskog, who announced Thursday that the knee injury that has sidelined him for the entire regular season will keep him out for the playoffs as well.
“These guys have put their heart and soul into this season, this regular season,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “Getting stronger and stronger as the year has gone on against whatever adversity we have faced. We’ve had different guys step up at different times and our leaders have been outstanding.”
In a first period where Colorado outshot Nashville 18-4, MacKinnon assisted on Toews’ goal just 28 seconds after the opening faceoff. MacKinnon then scored twice, with his second coming with 6:46 left in the first when he slipped a backhand past Lankinen after splitting a pair of Predators defenders in the slot.
Nashville drew even at 7:08 of the second on a power-play goal from Sherwood. It was his second goal of the game and the first two-goal game of his career. Sherwood played parts of the last two seasons with Colorado.
“That’s kind of the summary of the season,” Sherwood said. “Things don’t always go to plan, but we buckled down and came out and responded well and gave ourselves a chance to win at the end. They’re obviously Stanley Cup champions for a reason and it just shows the character of our group to fight till the end. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the win.”
Nashville was eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday night when Winnipeg clinched the Western Conference’s final playoff berth with a victory over Minnesota. The Predators had qualified for the playoffs the last eight seasons, tied with Washington for the second-longest active streaks, trailing just Pittsburgh’s 16. All three teams failed to qualify for this season’s playoffs.