DENVER — With 13 games separating the Avalanche from the postseason, and amid a battle for the top seed, head coach Jared Bednar used a matchup against the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets to shake up his top six. Following an uninspiring first period, Bednar flipped superstar center Nathan MacKinnon and new center Casey Mittelstadt.

MacKinnon played the rest of the game on a line with two familiar faces Jonathan Drouin and Artturi Lehkonen. Mittelstadt found himself flanked by top wingers Valeri Nichushkin and Mikko Rantanen. Bednar has done something similar in the past, flipping MacKinnon with then second-line center Nazem Kadri during the 2022 Stanley Cup Final depending on if the game was at home or on the road. And just like in 2022, Bednar is using the stretch run before the postseason to experiment with his lines and expand his options for what could be another long journey toward the Stanley Cup.

“You gotta have (flexibility with your lines). If you’re gonna win, you gotta have it,” Bednar said.

His change on Friday paid dividends as the new line combinations combined for three goals at even strength in two periods.

With the 29th-ranked Blue Jackets in town and Colorado coming off three consecutive one-goal games, it was an appropriate time for the switch. The Avs were still victorious, defeating the Blue Jackets 6-1 while outshooting them 50-24.

Cale Makar, Ross Colton, Valeri Nichushkin, Rantanen (two goals) and MacKinnon scored for Colorado, which pulled two points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets for first place in the Central Division and sits just one point back of Vancouver for the top seed in the Western Conference. The Avalanche and Canucks have played 70 games compared to the Jets’ 69.

MacKinnon, who didn’t find the scoresheet until the third period, extended his season-opening home point streak to 33 games. He also pulled within three points of Nikita Kucherov in the Art Ross Trophy race. Kucherov and the Lightning have a game in hand on the Avalanche.

MacKinnon collected the puck upon entering the Blue Jackets zone on a breakaway and wired it past goalie Elvis Merzlikins for his 43rd of the year. Just over a minute later, MacKinnon set up Rantanen’s second goal on the power play for yet another multi-point effort on home ice. MacKinnon now has a career-high in goals, assists and points in 2023-24.

Columbus got the first goal on what was a sluggish start for the Avs. Colorado, which entered the game riding a seven-game winning streak, was returning from a four-game road trip and had two nights off between games. Damon Severson started the scoring, taking advantage of Mittelstadt’s turnover to get one past goalie Alexandar Georgiev.

It was the first time an opposing team had scored with Mittelstadt on the ice in his six games with the Avs.

But Colorado quickly answered back, with the Mittelstadt line setting up star defenseman Cale Makar for his 18th of the year at the 11-minute mark. Neither team would find the back of the net again until the second period, where Colorado scored twice in short order to build a multi-goal lead.

First, a tally from Colton, who scored while fighting for positioning in the crease as he’s often done in the past. Colton’s 15th of the season stood as the eventual game-winner. But the Avalanche added to the lead just 1:24 later as Rantanen redirected a shot pass from defenseman Josh Manson for his 28th of the year.

Rantanen has eight goals in his last five games and is sixth in the NHL points race with 96. He needs just 10 points in 12 games to set a new career high in points.

Georgiev extended his personal winning streak to five games and leads the NHL with 36 wins. Ever since Colorado returned from a six-game road trip to start February, Georgiev is 8-2-0 with a .924 save percentage. Georgiev made 23 saves against Columbus.