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Vancouver Canucks Aaron Rome, left, punches Colorado Avalanche Cody McLeod after the two fell to the ice, knocking the net into Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo during the first period in Vancouver. (ANDY CLARK/Andy Clark /Reuters)
Vancouver Canucks Aaron Rome, left, punches Colorado Avalanche Cody McLeod after the two fell to the ice, knocking the net into Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo during the first period in Vancouver. (ANDY CLARK/Andy Clark /Reuters)

Avs clinch spot in playoffs Add to ...

The Colorado Avalanche have clinched a playoff spot and the Calgary Flames have been eliminated from postseason contention.

The eight-team field in the NHL's Western Conference was set on Tuesday, and all that remains to be determined is positioning.

The Avalanche beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 in a shootout before 18,810 at GM Place. That result, coupled with Calgary's 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks on home ice, sent Colorado to the postseason.

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"We're real high," captain Adam Foote said. "We're really up. We're really young, and we're flowing. But now it doesn't matter. We're there. If I was outside looking at this, I probably would've been like anyone else in Vegas, betting against us because of our youth. But it's been a special team all year."

Remarkably, the Avs return to the Stanley Cup playoffs after finishing 28th in the overall league standings last year. Colorado looked as though it was facing a long rebuilding process, but goaltender Craig Anderson and several young contributors, such as centre Matt Duchene, the third overall pick in the 2009 entry draft, jumpstarted the franchise.

Duchene netted the winner in the shootout. He was the last of six shooters, and the only one to score.

"During the game I had some chances, and it didn't manifest into anything," the 19-year-old said. "I really enjoy that type of pressure, and I was really hoping that I could contribute some way in that shootout."

Colorado head coach Joe Sacco informed his players of Calgary's loss heading into the overtime session.

The Flames were a fashionable preseason pick for the Cup finals after signing defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, the plumb of last summer's unrestricted free agent crop. Instead, Calgary will miss the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.

The Canucks playoff position was relatively assured heading into the game, and by the second period, they were locked into the third seed after the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Dallas Stars 5-2.

Vancouver will either play Detroit, Nashville or Los Angeles in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks will battle for first place in the conference.

Vancouver made three lineup changes against Colorado, the most significant being defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, who missed the game with a knee injury. He was replaced by Shane O'Brien, but the team's blue line took looked like it took another hit when Andrew Alberts left the game in the second period.

Alberts, who suffered a cut to his thigh from a skate blade, returned in the third period, however, and Ehrhoff is expected back for the playoffs.

The news is not that good for centre Ryan Johnson, who will miss at least the next month with a broken foot. That takes Johnson - a key penalty-killer and face-off man - out of the mix for the first round of the playoffs, at least. He could miss six weeks.

Johnson was replaced by winger Steve Bernier, who returned from an 17-game absence because of a sports hernia, and tough guy Darcy Hordichuk sat down for Rick Rypien, who played centre in Johnson's stead.

Colorado led 3-2 after two periods, scoring two weak goals on Roberto Luongo in the first period.

Luongo made 28 saves but continues to struggle. The Canucks captain will make one more start this week, likely Saturday against the Flames in the regular-season finale.

Darcy Tucker beat him with a shot off the right wing, and Luongo couldn't handle an offering from T.J. Galiardi, which crept over the goal line. In the second period, Paul Stastny converted a perfect pass from Chris Stewart on a two-on-one, with Canucks defenceman Sami Salo caught up ice.

"We were playing against a team that was playing for its playoff survival," head coach Alain Vigneault said. "They had to be at their max level."

Vancouver's replies came from Daniel Sedin and Mason Raymond. Each netted their 25th goals of the season, and Sedin added his 26th with four minutes remaining to tie the game.

On the first goal, Sedin got lucky. A Salo point shot sailed wide, but the puck took an angular carom off the end boards and slid into an empty crease for an easy put away.

Raymond, meanwhile, beat Anderson with a short-side shot on a two-on-one.

Henrik Sedin assisted on his brother's third-period goal to regain the NHL scoring lead. He entered the game tied with Alexander Ovechkin, but now leads 107 points to 106. Each player has two games remaining.

 

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