Back to health, Blues and Avalanche top two teams in West

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FILE - In this Feb. 16, 2019, file photo, St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, right, is congratulated as he passes the team box after scoring a goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Denver. Tarasenko makes his return after early season shoulder surgery that limited him to three goals in 10 games. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Look who's back and healthy for the Colorado Avalanche: Pretty much everyone. Ditto for St. Louis, the defending Stanley Cup champions.

The Blues and Avalanche were navigating through some key injuries before the season was halted in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The hiatus allowed time to heal and now the top two teams in the Western Conference return as Cup favorites.

The two teams get things rolling Sunday in Edmonton by facing each other to kick off a round-robin tournament to determine seeding in the West.

"We are just scratching the surface on what we can do,” Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “Having said that, we haven’t accomplished anything, we haven’t done anything, so we still have that chip on our shoulder, and we are still going into this thing to prove to people that we are ready for this. ... It should be a fun ride.”

Back on the ice for the Blues is forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who underwent shoulder surgery in late October. Missing from the lineup, though, will be defenseman Jay Bouwmeester after experiencing a frightening cardiac episode during a game against Anaheim on Feb. 11.

“Looking forward to the playoffs," said Tarasenko, whose team rode the sounds of Laura Branigan’s 1982 hit “Gloria” — played after wins — all the way to the Stanley Cup title more than a year ago. “I'm ready to play.”

Back in action for the Avalanche is a bunch of big names: Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Matt Calvert and goaltender Philipp Grubauer.

In all, the Avalanche lost 223 man games to injury this season, including standouts such as Rantanen (28 games missed), rookie defenseman/Calder Trophy finalist Cale Makar (13), Landeskog (16) and Grubauer (20). MacKinnon missed what was Colorado's final game of the halted regular season with a lower-body injury and his status for the postseason, had it started in March, may have been murky.