DENVER (AP) -By beating the Colorado Avalanche in the season finale, the St. Louis Blues dodged top-seeded San Jose.
Not that they're looking at facing Vancouver as any sort of reward.
Far from it.
"We're going to have our work cut out for us," Blues goalie Chris Mason said after stopping 28 shots in a 1-0 victory over Colorado on Sunday. "It's going to be a big challenge for us."
Then again, the Blues are used to big challenges.
In mid-February, St. Louis was last in the Western Conference and appeared all but finished. But the Blues rebounded and finished an NHL-best 25-9-7 in the second half of the season to earn a playoff berth.
"It's hard to comprehend at this point," said Mason, whose team is in the postseason for the first time in five years. "Every game we've played has been this playoff mentality. I'm sure it's going to sink in after it's all said and done. It's been a lot of fun. Now the real test begins."
The win Sunday allowed St. Louis to leapfrog Anaheim and Columbus for the sixth seed. Although the Blues tied Columbus in points, they held the tiebreaker edge.
By moving up, the Blues avoided Presidents' Trophy-winning San Jose in the first round, not to mention Detroit.
As Mason sees it, the consolation prize isn't all that glamorous.
"I don't think they have a weakness in their game," Mason said.
The Avalanche finished last in the West - the first time since moving to Denver in 1995 they have wound up in the cellar.
"It's just been a tough year," defenseman John-Michael Liles said. "In a perfect world we would have been in the playoffs, but this isn't a perfect world. We did all what we could."
That's hard to sort out just yet.
"We have to find ways to improve our team," Avalanche coach Tony Granato explained.
Asked if he expected to be back next season, Granato said, "I've got a lot of pride in this organization, I like it. We'll get ready to do our work in the summer."
The Avalanche battled injuries all season, missing captain Joe Sakic (back, hand), offensive threat Paul Stastny (arm, foot) and defenseman Adam Foote (triceps, head injury) for long stretches.
Not that they're looking for convenient excuses.
"This wasn't what any of us wanted. It wasn't fun," said Milan Hejduk, who was the only Colorado player to appear in all 82 games. "I never want to go through a season like this."
Brad Boyes scored the only goal of the game early in the first period. It was his team-leading 33rd goal of the season.
That's all the offensive support Mason needed as he posted his sixth shutout of the season.
"I felt good," said Mason, who has started the last 38 games, turning in a 24-8-6 mark. "I felt real good."
His biggest saves were when he stuck his left pad out to prevent Cody McLeod from jamming in a rebound early in the third and stopping a Wojtek Wolski blast with just under 5 minutes remaining.
"Chris was the difference in the game today," Blues coach Andy Murray said. "Colorado has played very well of late. Today, based on scoring chances, I think they probably deserved a better fate than what they got. But we found a way to get it done."
That has definitely been the case of late.
At Philadelphia, Sean Avery and Blair Betts scored third-period goals to rally New York, spoiling the Flyers' shot at home-ice advantage against Pittsburgh in its opening playoff series.
Brandon Dubinsky scored two goals for the Rangers, set to open the playoffs against Southeast Division champion Washington.
Dubinsky's second goal was short-handed, wrecking Philadelphia's shot at becoming the second team in NHL history to play an entire season without allowing one. The Flyers' streak of 103 games without surrendering a short-handed goal was the longest since Montreal went 122 games from March 1975 to November 1976.
Jeff Carter scored his 46th goal to finish second behind Washington's Alex Ovechkin (56) for the NHL lead. Danny Briere and Claude Giroux also scored.
At Chicago, Nikolai Khabibulin made 37 saves for his 41st career shutout, and the Blackhawks tuned up for their first playoff appearance in seven years.
Andrew Ladd and Jonathan Toews scored first-period goals, and Dave Bolland converted on the power play in the third. Khabibulin has three shutouts this season.
Chicago, a 4-2 winner over the Red Wings on Saturday in Detroit, was 6-0-1 in its final seven games. The Blackhawks open the playoffs against Calgary, while the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings will face Columbus in the first round.
At Uniondale. N.Y., Phil Kessel had three goals and an assist, and Tim Thomas made 32 saves for his 36th victory for Eastern Conference champion Boston.
Michael Ryder, Marc Savard and Chuck Kobasew also scored for the Bruins, who will face Montreal in the first round of the playoffs.
Radek Martinek and Doug Weight scored for New York. The Islanders finished last overall in the NHL, losing their last four games.
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