DENVER — Philipp Grubauer keeps making big stops and it’s going a long way toward saving Colorado’s season.
Tyson Barrie scored in the second period to become Colorado’s career goals leader among defensemen, Grubauer kept up his solid play with a 34-save performance and the playoff-chasing Avalanche beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 on Wednesday night.
Grubauer has taken over in goal for Semyon Varlamov and the Avalanche have taken off. They’re 5-0-1 over Grubauer’s last six starts.
“Fantastic,” Colin Wilson said. “Grubi’s been amazing in net.”
Matt Calvert, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Bourque also scored as the Avalanche stayed two points in front of Arizona for the last wild-card spot in the Western Conference with five games left. Colorado hosts the Coyotes in a pivotal matchup Friday.
Barrie’s 73rd career goal moved him out of a tie with Sandis Ozolinsh for most among Avalanche defenders. Barrie also had two assists.
“It’s a great feeling to have it come at this time of year when these games mean so much,” Barrie said.
Paul Stastny, Reilly Smith and Alex Tuch scored for a Vegas team that was denied a chance to clinch a playoff spot. Goaltender Malcolm Subban stopped 26 shots in his sixth consecutive start. The Golden Knights fell into a 3-0 hole and couldn’t recover.
Tuch made it a 4-3 game with 3:23 left when he knocked in a puck out of the air. Vegas pulled Subban with just over a minute left and had several chances, only to be denied by Grubauer. With 7.6 seconds remaining, MacKinnon was called for holding the stick and the Golden Knights had a 6-on-4 opportunity. Jonathan Marchessault had a chance in the waning seconds, but sent his shot just wide of the net.
“I think we were the better team tonight,” Smith said. “But we put ourselves in the hole in the first period and didn’t have enough to dig ourselves out.”
Trailing 3-0 midway through the second, the Golden Knights got goals from Stastny and Smith to climb back into the game. Bourque extended the lead to 4-2 with his second goal of the season from the right circle with 2:50 remaining in the period.
That was just enough of a cushion for Grubauer, who was named the NHL’s third star of the week Monday after stopping 149 of 155 shots.
“Obviously we made it interesting there,” Barrie said. “They’re a good team and they’ve been playing really well lately so it’s not a surprise they were going to give us a push at the end. We showed a lot of character to kind of grind that one out.”
Colorado scored first in a seventh straight game when Calvert took a pass from Tyson Jost and lined a wrist shot past Subban 5:39 into the game. It was Calvert’s first goal since Feb. 20.
MacKinnon added another nearly three minutes later when he spun past a defenseman on the power play and beat a screened Subban. That was goal No. 38 for MacKinnon this season.
“We lost the game in the first period because we didn’t compete and didn’t battle and got out-skated,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said.
Gradually, the Avalanche are returning to health. Matt Nieto was back in the lineup after missing 15 games with a lower-body injury. The team is still without two of their top scorers in Mikko Rantanen and captain Gabriel Landeskog as they both deal with upper-body ailments.
Landeskog participated Wednesday in the morning practice wearing a red non-contact jersey. There remains no update on Rantanen.
“Obviously missing those guys is huge, but it’ another opportunity for other guys to step up,” Grubauer said. “The guys are doing a tremendous job. Can’t wait for those guys to come back, though.”
NOTES: Golden Knights G Marc-Andre Fleury and LW Max Pacioretty were scratches. … Smith has six goals in his last eight games. … Avalanche D Mark Barberio (lower body) was assigned to the Colorado Eagles (AHL) on a conditioning loan. … The Avalanche notched their 500th regular-season home win since moving to Denver in 1995. … Colorado coach Jared Bednar earned his 100th NHL win.
Golden Knights: Host Minnesota on Friday.
Avalanche: Close out a two-game homestand with a game Friday against Arizona.