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NHL

Valeri Nichushkin's 3 goals carry Avalanche past Jets

Valeri Nichushkin had three goals for his first career hat trick, and the Colorado Avalanche took a commanding lead in their first-round series with a 5-1 win over the visiting Winnipeg Jets on Sunday in Denver.

Colorado has won the last three games to take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference best-of-seven series, with Game 5 on Tuesday night in Winnipeg. The Avalanche have outscored Winnipeg 16-5 since losing the first game, 7-6.

Cale Makar and Artturi Lehkonen each had a goal and an assist, Nathan MacKinnon had two assists and Alexandar Georgiev turned away 25 shots for Colorado.

Nate Schmidt scored for the Jets, who are on the brink of elimination. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck continued to struggle, allowing four goals on 30 shots before being replaced by Laurent Brossoit to start the third period.

Brossoit had four saves on four shots.

Winnipeg center Vladislav Namestnikov was helped off the ice with 13:03 left after Schmidt's slap shot from the point hit him in the head. The Jets were already without defenseman Brenden Dillon, who was scratched due to a cut on his hand suffered in the scrum after time expired in Game 3 on Friday night.

Nichushkin put Colorado ahead when he deflected Makar's shot from the point at 11:36 of the second. Makar made it 3-1 at 15:03 when he skated from his own zone, through Winnipeg players and beat Hellebuyck with a wrister from the top of the right circle.

Nichushkin capped off a dominant second period when he scored his fifth goal of the postseason at 19:36. He completed his hat trick with an empty-net goal at 19:47 of the third.

The Avalanche took a 1-0 lead when Lehkonen scored at 8:10 of the first period. It was his fourth of the series and fourth straight game with a goal.

Winnipeg got even later in the first period when Schmidt took a pass from Mason Appleton as he entered the offensive zone and beat Georgiev with a snap shot at 13:56.

Colorado challenged that the play was offsides, but Schmidt's first goal of the playoffs stood upon review.