Defending champion Blues lose opener

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The St. Louis Blues hoisted the Stanley Cup last season and have clinched a playoff spot this year but the reigning champs dropped their first official game back by a score of 2-1 to the Colorado Avalanche. Getty Images/AFP

Defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis and National Hockey League wins leader Boston were beaten Sunday, upstarts sending messages in their first official games since March’s Covid-19 shutdown.

Colorado’s Nazem Kadri poked home a rebound with one-tenth of a second remaining to give the Avalanche a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues in a Western Conference seeding contest.

Philadelphia’s Michael Raffi scored one goal and set up another in the second period to spark the Flyers over NHL wins leader Boston 4-1 in an Eastern Conference seeding game.

The reigning champion Blues, who lifted the trophy for the first time in club history last year, join Dallas and Las Vegas in the top four West teams that have clinched playoff spots and are playing to decide seeds for the start of the NHL playoffs.

The Boston Bruins, who had 44 wins and 100 points when the season was halted March 12, face Philadelphia, Washington and Tampa Bay to determine the seed order in the East.

Other clubs meet in best-of-five qualifying series to claim a berth against a seed in the best-of-seven playoff matchups that begin August 11.

All contests are being staged in cities, Toronto for the East and Edmonton for the West, in a bubble quarantine atmosphere as part of protocol and safeguards against Covid-19.

The Avalanche served notice they will be contenders for a top seed by edging the Blues on Kadri’s last-tick power-play goal that withstood video review.

“We feel like we can go and play with and beat anyone,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said.

Philipp Grubauer made 31 saves for the Avalanche, who next face Dallas on Wednesday.

Philadelphia’s 21-year-old goaltender Carter Hart made 34 saves, becoming the youngest Flyers netminder to win a post-season game.

Backup goalie Jaroslav Halak made 25 saves while Tuukka Rask was out due to illness, but the Bruins know they can’t afford another stumble or their sizzling start to the season will have been for naught.

‘That was awesome’

“I think that we all realise we can do better,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. “It goes to simplifying certain plays, just managing the puck and making better decisions.”

In best-of-five qualifying openers, Columbus netminder Joonas Korpisalo made 28 saves as the Blue Jackets blanked the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-0 on their own home ice.

It was the first post-season shutout for the Finnish goalie and the first shutout in team history for the Blue Jackets, who are in their 20th NHL campaign.

“I felt pretty confident from the get-go today and I think the boys played really good in front of me,” Korpisalo said. “That was awesome.”

Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper made 40 saves and the Coyotes had a goal and an assist from Christian Dvorak in a 4-3 victory over Nashville.

“[Kuemper] gives us a ton of confidence back there,” said Clayton Keller, who also scored for Arizona. “He has been our best player all year.”

The was the first post-season victory by the Coyotes since 2012.

Minnesota got power-play goals from Kevin Fiala in the first period and Jared Spurgeon in the second plus an empty-netter by Spurgeon in the final seconds of a 3-0 Wild victory over Vancouver. Alex Stalock made 28 saves for the shutout.