No. 1 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 2 Vegas Golden Knights
Avalanche: 4-0 to win Stanley Cup First Round against No. 4 St. Louis Blues; 39-13-4, 82 points in regular season
Golden Knights: 4-3 to win Stanley Cup First Round against No. 3 Minnesota Wild; 40-14-2, 82 points in regular season
Season series: COL 4-3-1; VGK 4-4-0
Game 1: Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS)
The Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights will play each other in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time.
The Golden Knights closed their first-round series against the Wild with a 6-2 win in Game 7 on Friday. The Avalanche last played May 23, when they won 5-2 in Game 4 against the Blues.
Colorado, which won the Presidents’ Trophy for having the best regular-season record in the NHL, had the same number of points as Vegas but finished first in the Honda West Division and the League standings because of the regulation-wins tiebreaker (35-30).
“This is two evenly matched teams, a little bit of a different style but both teams are deep and both teams play with a lot of speed, both teams have good goaltending,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “It’s a little bit different style. I’m expecting a long, hard series here and so is our team.”
Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri was suspended eight games for an illegal check to the head of Blues defenseman Justin Faulk in Game 2. He served the first two games of the suspension in Games 3 and 4. Kadri appealed the suspension and had a Zoom hearing with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Thursday; there is no timetable for a decision.
Vegas and Colorado each won four games in the regular-season series, with the Golden Knights outscoring the Avalanche 18-17.
“They have a lot of speed and skill,” Vegas defenseman Zach Whitecloud said. “They’re good in all areas of the ice. Their lineup is very good all the way through it. [It’s about] limiting that speed, limiting that skill, making life tough in all areas of the ice. I think focusing on our game too, and what we do well, if we’re executing that game plan and managing pucks, doing all the little things that make us a good team, are going to be key. Looking forward to the next series.”
The Avalanche won 2-1 at the Golden Knights on May 10 in the most recent game between the teams. Colorado goalie Philipp Grubauer made 36 saves. Vegas played with 10 forwards and five defensemen because of NHL salary cap constraints and injuries.
Prior to that, the Golden Knights won 5-2 at home April 28. Forwards Max Pacioretty (two goals, one assist) and Mark Stone (one goal, two assists) each scored three points and Vegas extended its winning streak to a team-record 10 straight.
Avalanche: MacKinnon leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs with six goals and became the first player in Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques history to score nine points in a series while playing four or fewer games. MacKinnon has scored 63 points (26 goals, 37 assists) in 44 playoff games; his average of 1.43 points per game is third in NHL history among players with at least 40 playoff games, behind Wayne Gretzky (1.84) and Mario Lemieux (1.61). He scored six points (two goals, four assists) in eight games against the Golden Knights this season.
Golden Knights: Stone led the Golden Knights with four goals and was tied for second with five points while averaging 19:33 in ice time against the Wild. The Vegas captain scored 61 points (21 goals, 40 assists) in 55 games during the regular season, including six points (one goal, five assists) in eight games against the Avalanche.
Avalanche: Grubauer had a 1.75 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage in four games against the Blues in the first round. He was 4-2-1 with a 1.86 GAA and a .935 save percentage in seven games against the Golden Knights during the regular season. “When we need a save, whether it’s by a breakdown or a turnover, he’s there to make those saves for us,” Bednar said. “Everyone in our room and within our organization values ‘Grubi’ on what he’s done for us.”
Golden Knights: Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner shared the Jennings Trophy with Vegas allowing the fewest goals (124) during the regular season, but the playoffs have belonged to Fleury. The 36-year-old started all seven games in the first round and had a 1.71 GAA, a .931 save percentage and one shutout. He was 4-3-0 with a 2.14 GAA, a .932 save percentage and two shutouts in seven regular-season games against the Avalanche. In his only start against Colorado, Lehner made 19 saves in a 2-1 loss May 10.
Numbers to know
Avalanche: Colorado averaged 5.0 goals per game and its power play was at 50.0 percent (6-for-12) in the first round. They Avalanche allowed 27.5 shots on goal per game and won 52.3 percent of face-offs (123 of 235).
Golden Knights: Vegas was outscored 6-3 in the first period in the first round, but outscored Minnesota 11-3 in the second. The Golden Knights averaged 42.1 hits per game, led by forward Ryan Reaves (36), and 16.3 blocked shots per game, led by defenseman Alec Martinez (26).
Avalanche: Cale Makar scored three points (one goal, two assists) and had 10 shots on goal in four games against the Blues, but it was the defenseman’s ability to exit his zone with poise and authority while creating offensive chances that made him so effective. The Avalanche had 60.5 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts when Makar was on the ice in the first round.
Golden Knights: Pacioretty made his series debut in Game 7 and scored the game-winning goal. The forward had missed the previous 12 games, including the final five of the regular season, because of an undisclosed injury. His healthy return at left wing on the top line with Stone and Chandler Stephenson provided a boost for an offense that averaged 2.33 goals per game in the first six games against Minnesota. Pacioretty led Vegas with eight points (six goals, two assists) in seven games against Colorado during the regular season, and he scored a Golden Knights-leading 24 goals in 48 games this season.
They said it
“Every season that goes on and every playoff series that you get eliminated, your hunger and want goes up that much higher. I think that’s the difference with our group (from last season to this season). We’re that much more hungry, that much more competitive, for sure. Obviously we were competitive last year as well, but you realize that you only have so many chances. You try to live in the moment and not get ahead of yourself, but you want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to take care of opportunities. We have a really good team and want to make the most of it.” — Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog
“[Colorado is] the best team in the League. Arguably have the best player in the League; a couple of them. We’ve got to make life hard on them. We knew to get to where we want to go we’d have to go through them at least in the second round. We’re going to get each other here pretty fresh. We both had the same record and they got us on [the tiebreaker], but everyone believes they’re the measuring stick team in the League. They’ve been sitting at home, probably resting up, but no matter what, we’ve got to make life difficult, especially on their star players.” — Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty
Will win if …
Avalanche: The top line of MacKinnon (six goals, three assists), Landeskog (two goals, six assists) and Mikko Rantanen (one goal, six assists), which has combined for 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) in the playoffs, continues to thrive, and they get secondary scoring from forwards Joonas Donskoi (two goals, one assist) and Brandon Saad (three goals), who combined for six points (five goals, one assist) in the first round. They also need Grubauer to continue his strong play.
Golden Knights: The defense can retrieve pucks and transition quickly to limit Colorado’s offensive zone time while also eliminating the number of screen shots in front of Fleury. The goalie must be on his ‘A’ game and cognizant of his rebound control because the Avalanche excel at the net front. If offensive help can also be provided by forwards Mattias Janmark, Alex Tuch and Jonathan Marchessault, that’s a bonus.
How they look
Avalanche projected lineup
Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen
Andre Burakovsky — J.T. Compher — Joonas Donskoi
Brandon Saad — Tyson Jost — Valeri Nichushkin
Carl Soderberg — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — Alex Newhook
Devon Toews — Cale Makar
Ryan Graves — Samuel Girard
Patrik Nemeth — Conor Timmins
Scratched: Bowen Byram, Devan Dubnyk, Dennis Gilbert, Jacob MacDonald, Liam O’Brien, Dan Renouf, Kiefer Sherwood, Miikka Salomaki, T.J. Tynan, Martin Kaut, Keaton Middleton, Sampo Ranta, Kyle Burroughs, Adam Werner, Justus Annunen
Injured: Matt Calvert (upper body), Logan O’Connor (lower body)
Suspended: Nazem Kadri
COVID-19 protocol: Jayson Megna
Golden Knights projected lineup
Max Pacioretty — Chandler Stephenson — Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault — William Karlsson — Reilly Smith
Mattias Janmark — Nicolas Roy — Alex Tuch
William Carrier — Patrick Brown — Ryan Reaves
Alec Martinez — Alex Pietrangelo
Nick Holden — Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague — Zach Whitecloud
Scratched: Dylan Coghlan, Jiri Patera, Peyton Krebs, Keegan Kolesar
Injured: Tomas Nosek (undisclosed)
COVID-19 protocol: Brayden McNabb