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Youthful, speedy Avalanche take another big step forward

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

By PAT GRAHAM

AP Sports Writer

DENVER (AP) To Gabriel Landeskog and the Colorado Avalanche, this was up for debate: Whether his skate brushed the blue line on what would've been a game-tying goal in Game 7 before being overturned.

To the Colorado captain and his teammates, this was not debatable: Their prospects moving forward.

The Avs are youthful, fast and poised to be a possible contender for seasons to come. They made the playoffs for a second straight season and as a No. 8 seed advanced out of a series for the first time since 2008. But their run came to a halt with a 3-2 loss at San Jose in the Western Conference semifinals series finale.

"The further you distance yourself from this game tonight and this playoff run, it will be easier to digest and look back with a little bit of perspective," Landeskog said . "I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's a real bright future for this organization and this hockey team."

Landeskog took accountability for a pivotal moment in Wednesday's season-ending loss. The Avalanche appeared to tie the game midway through the second when Nathan MacKinnon set up Colin Wilson, but Sharks coach Peter DeBoer challenged the play for offside. The call was overturned because Landeskog was still in the zone as he went off the ice on a line change.

"Clumsy mistake," Landeskog said. "If I could've done something different on that play I would have jumped the boards a lot quicker."

It was a season filled with peaks (tied for most points in the West after games on Dec. 7), valleys (a 5-15-6 midseason slide) and finally a big turnaround.

On March 17, the Avs were six points out of the last wild-card spot. They went a league-best 8-0-2 over their next 10 games to sneak into the postseason. Then, they made some noise in the first round by eliminating Calgary, the top seed in the West, in five games.

"It's obviously a good step for us as an organization," said MacKinnon, who crashed into the boards with his shoulder early in Game 7, only to return after getting an injection. "We took a really good team to Game 7. So it's a good step."

The same sentiment from coach Jared Bednar.

"We've proven that we've got something here that we can move forward with and build on," Bednar said. "Expectations are going up and we'll have to react to those accordingly."

Colorado has the fourth overall pick in the upcoming draft courtesy of Ottawa as part of the trade for Matt Duchene in November 2017. The Avalanche also boast a youthful nucleus that grew up fast.

That includes defenseman Cale Makar, who joined the team in Game 3 of the Calgary series after finishing his college season at Massachusetts. He gave the Avs an instant boost, finishing the playoffs with one goal and five assists.

It's been a whirlwind few weeks for Makar, who won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's top player, played in the Frozen Four championship game, signed a three-year deal with Colorado on April 14 and suited up the next day to score his first NHL goal.

Now, he can settle in a bit - and round up his stuff.

"Everything is back at school," Makar said. "Some of the guys moved into a house off campus. Hopefully, when all this is done, somebody can send it back home for me."

Here are things to know heading into the offseason:

POINT TAKEN: MacKinnon's career-high 99 points (41 goals) in the regular season were the most by an Avalanche player since Joe Sakic had 100 in 2006-07. MacKinnon's 365 shots broke Sakic's team mark of 339 set in 1995-96.

HIGH MARKS: Colorado had quite a few players turn in career performances. A quick sampling: Mikko Rantanen (87 points, 31 goals, 56 assists), Landeskog (75 points, 34 goals, nine game-winning goals), Matt Calvert (26 points), Matt Nieto (19 assists), Carl Soderberg (23 goals) and Tyson Barrie (59 points, 45 assists, 218 shots).

FREE AGENTS: A restricted free agent this summer, Rantanen is set to cash in after his All-Star season. The As have a few impending free agents, including goaltender Semyon Varlamov and forward Derick Brassard, who was acquired in a February trade.

GRUUU: Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer set career highs in wins (18), games (37) and tied his top mark for shutouts with three as he took over for Varlamov. The crowd constantly chanted his name - "Gruuuu" - whenever he made a big save. He was 7-5 with a 2.30 goals-against average in the postseason.

COMEBACK KIDS: Colorado had 103 goals in the third period, the highest amount by an Avalanche squad since the team relocated to the Mile High City. Landeskog led the way with an NHL-most 20 goals in the third period.

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AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.

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Updated May 9, 2019

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