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Colorado wins Central Division in season finale, and the NHL’s playoff matchups are set

Mikko Rantanen celebrates Nathan MacKinnon's goal inside the final two minutes of regulation, which ultimately won the defending Stanley Cup champions the Central Division for the second straight season.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Nathan MacKinnon had three goals and an assist as the Colorado Avalanche beat the Nashville Predators, 4-3, on Friday night to win the Central Division title and lock in the matchups for this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

Devon Toews also scored and had an assist and Alexandar Georgiev made 18 saves for Colorado, which finished a point ahead of Dallas in the division. Mikko Rantanen had two assists.

Kiefer Sherwood scored twice, Luke Evangelista added one, and Kevin Lankinen made 30 saves for the Predators, who were eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday night. Friday was the final game in the career of Predators general manager David Poile. Just prior to the NHL trade deadline, Poile, the winningest regular season general manager in NHL history, announced he was retiring from the position. Nashville’s GM since the franchise has been existence will be replaced by Barry Trotz, the team’s first head coach.

With 1:42 remaining in the third, MacKinnon skated into the Nashville zone on the right side before snapping a wrist shot by Lankinen. His third goal was his 42nd of the season, setting a career high. The hat trick was his first of the season and fourth of his career.

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The reigning Stanley Cup-winning Avalanche will begin their championship defense against Seattle in the first round of the playoffs. They will do so without captain Gabriel Landeskog, who announced Thursday that the knee injury that has sidelined him for the entire regular season will keep him out for the playoffs as well.

Also in the West, MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers face the Los Angeles Kings, and the Pacific Division champion Vegas Golden Knights go up against the Winnipeg Jets. The Stars, second in the Central, face the Minnesota Wild.

The Eastern Conference field was set Monday, with the NHL-best Bruins against the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division bracket, along with Rangers-Devils and the Carolina Hurricanes against the New York Islanders on the Metropolitan side.

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Series begin Monday and Tuesday.