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Nathan MacKinnon, Valeri Nichushkin set new career highs as Avalanche blasts Blue Jackets

The only drama left in the final period Friday night at Ball Arena was whether Nathan MacKinnon could continue his pursuit of NHL history and extend his home scoring streak to 33 games.

MacKinnon took care of it with 13:59 to spare, then added another on a surgical power-play goal barely more than a minute later to help the Colorado Avalanche crush the Columbus Blue Jackets, 6-1. It was Colorado’s eighth straight victory, and moved the Avalanche to the top of the Central Division with 95 points.

“The streak is a result of all the hard work and dedication that he brings to the game on a nightly basis,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “There’s not a guy on that bench that didn’t know he hadn’t had a point yet, and when he got it everyone was pretty happy. You can see he wants it. He was a little ornery on the bench when he hadn’t got a point yet. That’s the pressure he puts on himself.”

Cale Makar casually broke up a 2-on-2 rush for the Blue Jackets and set MacKinnon loose on a breakaway. MacKinnon had seven shots on goal before this, but didn’t miss with No. 8 and set a new career high with 43 goals in a season. Toss in the primary assist on Mikko Rantanen’s second goal of the night 73 seconds later, and MacKinnon has 119 points, one shy of Joe Sakic’s Denver-based record.

The overall franchise record, 139 for Peter Stastny in 1981-82, remains very much in play. MacKinnon’s home scoring streak is now tied with one Wayne Gretzky run for the second-longest in league history. He’s chasing Gretzky’s 1988-89 season, when he had a point in all 40 home games.

Makar had Colorado’s first goal after a nifty rush sequence. Jonathan Drouin gained the offensive zone and left a drop pass for Artturi Lehkonen. He immediately found Makar in some open space near the right circle for his 18th goal of the season. That ties Nashville’s Roman Josi for the league lead among defensemen and left him three points shy of Quinn Hughes for tops in that category.

Jared Bednar reunited Ross Colton and Miles Wood on the team’s third line along with Zach Parise, and that trio created the second goal. Parise pulled up along the right wing, saw his linemates both loitering near the net and sent the puck in that direction. Both guys were there hunting for the rebound, and Colton shoveled it across the line for his 15th of the season.

“I feel like they should be playing together,” Bednar said. “They get along off the ice. We’ve seen them play some great stretches of games. … I know that they have it in them. They just had to work through some issues. Great conscious on the defensive side tonight, physical, went to the net hard, drew penalties, banged in a rebound goal. I liked that line a lot tonight.”

Bednar did some in-game tinkering as well, flipping MacKinnon and Casey Mittelstadt’s on the top two lines. Rantanen scored on Mittelstadt’s first shift with him and Valeri Nichushkin, deflecting a point shot from Josh Manson past Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins.

Rantanen now has eight goals in his past five games, and is ninth in the league with 39 this season. Nichushkin added one in the third period to give that line two goals in as many periods. It was his 26th of the season, which is also a new personal best.

“They make the game easy,” Mittelstadt said of playing with Rantanen and Nichushkin. “There’s so many good players here. I feel like I’m just trying to fit in and make plays. I think if you stay within the system, the puck follows you around a little bit. They can both make plays and are elite players so it was a blast.”

Damon Severson put the Blue Jackets ahead early in the first period. Johnny Gaudreau sent the puck from along the boards on the right wing to near the far post and Severson was there to redirect it home. That was the high water mark for the visitors.

At one point the shots 5-4 in favor of Colorado, but the Avalanche had 19 of the next 20 and surged ahead in the process. The second period was 20 minutes without a penalty on either team, and Colorado flexed its proverbial muscles with its new-look roster.

The final carnage was two goals, a 23-7 advantage in shots on goal and a 19-4 advantage in scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick.

“Spending a lot of time in their zone and I’m kind of waiting for something to happen,” said Avs goalie Alexandar Georgiev, who made 23 saves but only faced 12 shots in the first 40 minutes. “It’s 3-1 heading into the third. We were pretty happy with that. We knew they were going to make a push. We tried to play smart and score the next goal. We did that. It was a great job by the guys.”

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