The top two teams in the Honda West Division play when the Colorado Avalanche host the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Second Round at Ball Arena on Sunday.
Colorado (39-13-4) and Vegas (40-14-2) each had 82 points this season. The Avalanche were 4-3-1 against the Golden Knights (who were 4-4-0) and won the Presidents’ Trophy and No. 1 seed with more regulation wins (35-30).
Colorado is well rested, having been off since May 23, when it completed a first-round sweep of the St. Louis Blues with a 5-2 win in Game 4.
Vegas had one day to rest after defeating the Minnesota Wild in seven games in the first round, winning 6-2 in Game 7 on Friday.
“I think if you’re going to be able to compete against this team, you look at the analytics, they’re overwhelming,” Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said of the Avalanche. “They’re great in every area, they’re rested, they’re fresh, they’re healthy. We’re going to have to be dialed in in all of our areas if we want to compete.”
It is the first time Colorado and Vegas will face off in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“Vegas is a good team, there’s a lot of things that make them good,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. If they want to play a physical game, it’s fine. We just went through a series playing like that, so we’re going to play our game and continue what we do, play fast. We know them, they know us. It’s going to be an exciting series.”
The Avalanche haven’t advanced to the third round since 2002, when they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in seven games in the Western Conference Final.
Teams that win Game 1 are 495-224 (68.8 percent) winning a best-of-7 NHL playoff series, including 5-2 in the first round this season.
Here are 3 keys for Game 1:
1. Relishing underdog role
The Golden Knights consider themselves underdogs even though they won four games against the Avalanche during the season and were tied for the most points in the NHL.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have even come,” DeBoer said. “We’ve got a lot of things stacked against us. The one thing we got going for us is I love the character and resiliency of our group.”
Forward Alex Tuch said Vegas is embracing the role.
“It’s different than the first round,” Tuch said, “being an underdog, coming in with a chip on your shoulder and trying to prove to everyone else who says that we have no shot at beating Colorado and Colorado’s the team to beat. But in our locker room, we think that we’re the team to beat and if Colorado wants a chance at the Stanley Cup, they’re going to have go through us.
“And we know that if we want a chance at the Stanley Cup, we’re going to have to go through Colorado. It’s a pretty obvious statement, but at the end, we were the top two teams in the regular season points-wise, and I think it’s going to be a heck of a matchup and a heck of a series, that’s for sure.”
2. Controlling Colorado’s offense
The Golden Knights need to keep the Avalanche offense in check. Colorado is led by the top line of Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, who combined for 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) in four games against the Blues. MacKinnon scored nine points (six goals, three assists), Landeskog eight (two goals, six assists) and Rantanen seven (one goal, six assists).
The Avalanche had the best offense in the NHL during the regular season, averaging 3.52 goals per game.
“Just playing smart,” Vegas center Chandler Stephenson said. “They’re one of the best offensive teams in the League and we’ve got to play smart and not try to get into that (fast-paced) game with them and just take away their time and speed.”
3. Home sweet home
Colorado has won 11 straight games at Ball Arena and is 18-0-1 at home since a 3-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on March 8. The Avalanche will have as many as 10,500 fans in attendance (57.3 percent capacity) to open the series, the largest since March 11, 2020, when 18,025 watched a 3-2 overtime win against the New York Rangers before the 2019-20 season was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m sure it’s going to be amazing,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “Even just when we first started putting fans in, 4,000 fans seemed like a world of difference. Went to 7,000, even better. Now going to 10,000, I expect the energy level in the building to be up. It’s a big series against a really good hockey team. I hear they’re selling out their building for Game 3, so it’s a lot of fun for our guys to play in front of fans again.
“The hostility in the away rink (also) is great. It’s something you want to deal with and it’s why you play. At home it’s even better because it’s our fans cheering us on. We love playing here as well, in front of them, and putting on a show. Just excited.”
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, Keegan Kolesar, Jiri Patera
Injured: Peyton Krebs (fractured jaw), Tomas Nosek (undisclosed)
COVID-19 protocol: Brayden McNabb
Avalanche projected lineup
Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen
Andre Burakovsky – J.T. Compher – Joonas Donskoi
Brandon Saad — Tyson Jost — Valeri Nichushkin
Alex Newhook — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — Carl Soderberg
Devon Toews — Cale Makar
Ryan Graves — Samuel Girard
Patrik Nemeth — Conor Timmins
Scratched: Bowen Byram, Jonas Johansson, Jacob MacDonald, Liam O’Brien, Sampo Ranta, Dan Renouf, Kiefer Sherwood
Injured: Matt Calvert (upper body), Logan O’Connor (lower body)
Suspended: Nazem Kadri
COVID-19 protocol: Jayson Megna
The Golden Knights did not name a starter, but Lehner was the first goalie off the ice at an optional morning skate Sunday. … Ranta, a forward, could make his NHL debut on the fourth line. … Kadri, a center, will serve the third game of his eight-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Blues defenseman Justin Faulk in Game 2 of the first round on May 19. Kadri appealed the suspension in a Zoom hearing with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Thursday. There is no timetable for a decision.