Back from week-long COVID-19 pause, Avalanche battle Blues

The Colorado Avalanche will return from their latest COVID-19 pause when they visit the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

The Avalanche (30-9-4, 64 points) haven’t played since April 14, when they defeated the Blues 4-3 in St. Louis.

They will return short-handed for their rematch against the Blues (19-18-6, 44 points). Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer and wingers Mikko Rantanen and Joonas Donskoi remain on the COVID-19 protocol list.

Rantanen, who ranks second in the NHL with 26 goals scored, joined that list Tuesday due to contact tracing.

“If things go well, he can join our team and be available for the latter part of this road trip,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar told Altitude Sports Radio.

Defenseman Bowen Byram exited protocol and rejoined the Avalanche. Defensemen Patrik Nemeth (off injured list) and Conor Timmins (recalled from AHL) also returned to duty.

“It’s a pretty scary group, how good we can be when we play,” goaltender Devan Dubnyk said. “I just want to keep this thing going.”

Dubnyk arrived in a trade with the San Jose Sharks before the NHL deadline. He stepped in for Grubauer to defeat the Blues in their previous game.

“When you’ve got to lean on guys, you want to be leaning on your veteran players, and that’s what he was brought in to do,” Bednar said. “I thought he did a nice job for us.”

Dubnyk and Jonas Johansson, who is 3-0-1 with a 1.87 goals-against average since arriving from the Buffalo Sabres, will fill in while Grubauer works his way back into game shape.

“It’s too bad for Grubi, obviously,” Dubnyk said. “We want him to feel great, but that’s just this year. It can happen to anybody. I tried not to think too much and just go and work and play. I feel like each game will get easier working with this group.”

While the second-place Avalanche are battling the first-place Vegas Golden Knights for the West Division title, the fifth-place Blues are fighting the fourth-place Arizona Coyotes for the division’s final playoff spot.

The Avalanche are 4-1-0 against the Blues this season with an 18-10 scoring margin.

Since March 5, the Blues have posted a 5-10-4 record. Coach Craig Berube ordered a hard-skating practice Tuesday while trying to get his team up to speed.

“I think it’s just trying to get the aggressiveness back in our game for 60 minutes,” Berube said. “We do come out in the first period. We’ve been aggressive and gotten leads or we played well, but then we really don’t stay with that aggressiveness for a consistent 60 minutes.”

The Blues have several forwards fighting scoring slumps, including Brayden Schenn (no goals in 17 games), Jaden Schwartz (four goals in 28 games) and Vladimir Tarasenko (three goals in 19 games).

“I continue to think they get some opportunities to score; they’re snake-bit right now,” Berube said. “I talked to Schenn about getting in there and getting your nose dirty around the net. Sometimes you’ve got to get one off your skate or a rebound, some second or third opportunities around the net.”

The Blues hope to get Vince Dunn (bruised foot) back in the lineup for this game, but forward Robert Thomas (upper-body injury) is more doubtful.

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