Second place never felt so good to an Avalanche team.

The Avs would rather be in first, of course, but on Wednesday night they took sole possession of second in the NHL's Central Division with a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at the Pepsi Center.

Colorado now has 91 points and Chicago 90, with both teams having 16 games left to play in the regular season. Under the NHL's new playoff format, in which the second- and third-place teams in each conference division play each other in the first round, the second-place team has home-ice advantage.

Sporting the team's new "hard hat," given to a player after each win, Ryan O'Reilly spoke of how big his power-play goal, at 10:53 to give Colorado a 3-1 lead, was to the outcome, especially after the Avs had to withstand a late Blackhawks rally started by a goal by Brandon Saad.

"(Matt Duchene) made a great shot on net, maybe surprised him a little, and the rebound was just kind of laying there for me," O'Reilly said. "It was a high-intensity game. They came at us pretty hard there at times in the last two periods, but (goalie Semyon Varlamov) stood on his head for us."

The Avs took a 2-0 lead just 19 seconds into the second period on Duchene's 22nd goal of the season. Duchene roofed a shot past Chicago goalie Antti Raanta which, on the heels of a late first-period goal by Brad Malone, would seem to have given the Avs a lot of momentum.

But it was Chicago instead that became the better team the rest of the period. Chicago star Patrick Kane scored a highlight-reel goal at 8:23, beating Varlamov with a backhander to the short side after several pretty dekes down the left side.

The intensity went up several notches in the third period, and it seemed like both teams were playing with a home crowd. Numerous Chicago fans, with their StubHub tickets probably purchased a few months ago, made about as much noise as Avs fans.