Avalanche RW Rantanen returning for playoffs

Colorado Avalanche All-Star winger Mikko Rantanen will return from an eight-game absence due to an upper-body injury and play in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series on Thursday against the Calgary Flames.

“I’m very excited and can’t wait to get going,” said Rantanen, who practiced without a no-contact sweater for the first time Wednesday since getting hurt on March 21. “The medical team did a good job and got me back in shape.”

Head coach Jared Bednar said he plans to play the right winger on the team’s second line with center Carl Soderberg, rather than going back to an all All-Star line with Rantanen alongside Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog.

Bednar said he likes Rantanen’s progress and expects him to be ready for a heavy workload right away.

“I think that he’s been ramping up nicely,” Bednar said. “He looks better and quicker every day that he’s on the ice. We’ll see how he does tomorrow in the game and adjust his ice time from there. But I expect him to play a lot just like he normally does.”

Despite missing the final eight games of the regular season, Rantanen posted career highs in goals (31) and assists (56) while finishing second on the team in points behind MacKinnon (99). Through mid-December, Rantanen led the NHL with points, as he had 58 through 35 games.

The Avalanche open the playoffs at Calgary, which finished with the most points in the Western Conference (107).