With the playoffs being held in hub cities — Toronto for the East, Edmonton for the West — the winning teams won’t have the type of home-ice advantage through the conference finals that traditionally comes with being the top seed.
But there still are advantages to being No. 1.
“The higher the seed, the easier path you get,” Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said Friday. “That’s a reality. There isn’t an easy path once the playoffs start, but there’s definitely some paths that are a little easier than others. … You get the lowest-ranked opponent, you get last change, you get the benefit sometimes of a home dressing room over a visitor dressing room. There’s small benefits to it.”
The winner of the the Vegas-Colorado game (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS) will play the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference First Round. The loser will play the Arizona Coyotes.
The winner of the Flyers-Lightning game (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN360, SN1, TVAS) will play the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference First Round. The loser will play the winner of Game 5 of the qualifier series between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday.
Colorado, Vegas, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay each is 2-0-0 in the three-game round-robin.
The Avalanche, whose .657 points percentage in the regular season was second in the West behind the St. Louis Blues (.662), won their two games against the Golden Knights (.606) by a combined score of 13-4. But those games were played before DeBoer replaced Gerard Gallant as Vegas coach Jan. 15.
“That’s a good team, a deep team,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said of the Golden Knights. “They’ve been scoring a lot of goals (11 in two round-robin games). They play hard, they play fast, they’re skilled, well coached. It’s a tough opponent for sure.”
Bednar said a win at Rogers Place on Saturday would allow Colorado to accomplish something it targeted early in the season.
“The goal (of finishing as the top seed) helped drive our consistency throughout the year,” Bednar said. “To have one game remaining and that still be a milestone we can reach, it’s good.
“Whether it’s symbolic, I do think there are still advantages to having the home-ice: last change and being able to pursue some matchups if we want to. I see some significance there. It’s more just having our team work toward something and make sure that we’re playing our best trying to achieve our goals. That’s the last one for the regular season. Hopefully, it’s something we can obtain if we play a real good game against Vegas tomorrow.”
The Golden Knights have their own goals, including maintaining a balanced offensive attack without forward Max Pacioretty, who will be out for the third straight game after leading Vegas with 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists) in the regular season.
“He’s really close,” DeBoer said. “That’s all I can tell you for now. I said he was on the horizon last time we talked about him, and he’s closer than that this time.”
Bednar wouldn’t reveal if Philipp Grubauer or Pavel Francouz would start in goal, but DeBoer said his opinion of the Avalanche doesn’t change whoever it is.
“They’ve got it all,” DeBoer said. “They’ve got depth, they’ve got superstars at different positions. They can score. They defend better than people give them credit for; they’re actually one of the better defending teams in the League, and you combine that with their offense, they’re loaded. It’s going to be a great test for us.”
Philadelphia, which finished with the fourth-best points percentage in the East during the regular season (.645), will be without forward Jakub Voracek against Tampa Bay at Scotiabank Arena.
“Jake’s got a unique skill set, a veteran guy that’s been around, played in some big games,” Flyers defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “We’ll welcome him when he comes back, and in the meantime keep chugging forward with the guys we have.”
The Lightning will be without forward Steven Stamkos for the third straight game. He sustained a lower-body injury before training camp began July 13 and remains questionable for the start of the first round.
“Injuries are unpredictable,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “If there’s somebody that is working harder than him to try to get back, I have not seen it.”
The Lightning went 2-0-0 against the Flyers during the regular season, when they finished second in the East in points percentage (.657) behind the Boston Bruins (.714). They have played a more physical style than past seasons with the additions of defenseman Zach Bogosian and forwards Pat Maroon, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman.
“Tampa Bay has gotten a little bit grittier,” Philadelphia coach Alain Vigneault said. “Obviously, they are a highly skilled team, but they can play any type of hockey. We’re going to have to be ready for it.”
The Flyers and Lightning were scheduled to play in Tampa Bay on March 12, the day the NHL paused the season due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. At the time, Philadelphia had won nine of its previous 10 games, and Cooper said he viewed the matchup as a measuring stick for his team. He still has that view after watching the Flyers during the round-robin.
“Clearly, they’re rolling so it’s going to be a really good test for us,” he said. “They’re an explosive team, they’re a dynamic team. They’ve got the kid in net (Carter Hart) who’s really matured. They’ve just matured as a team.”
The round-robin will end Sunday with the Bruins (0-2-0) and Washington Capitals (0-1-1; .652 regular-season points percentage) playing for the No. 3 seed in the East, and the Blues (0-2-0) and Dallas Stars (0-2-0; .594) facing off for the No. 3 seed in the West.