The Colorado Avalanche faces the Vegas Golden Knights in the teams' first-ever series in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the clubs have met once before in a one-off postseason contest.
The Avs and Knights battled each other in the round-robin portion of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, on Aug. 8, with the winner of that matchup earning the top seed in the Western Conference for the NHL's traditional playoff tournament that followed.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic that shortened the 2019-20 campaign, forcing the end of the regular season in March with Colorado still having 12 games to play, the league hosted a play-in tournament of sorts to determine the 16 teams that would qualify in best-of-seven sets for the Stanley Cup. Teams ranked five through 12 by points percentage in each conference played in a best-of-five series (No. 5 vs. No. 12, No. 6 vs. 11, No. 7 vs. 10, No. 8 vs. 9), while the top four clubs in the West and East competed in a round-robin format to determine the top four seeds.
The Avalanche entered the qualifying round as the No. 2 seed with a .657 points percentage and 92 points (42-20-8), trailing only the St. Louis Blues (.662, 42-19-10), who had two more points (94) but had played one more game. The Dallas Stars were also part of the top-four qualifiers.
Colorado earned wins against St. Louis and Dallas in the first two contests of pool play, setting up a showdown with No. 3 Vegas, who was also 2-0-0, for the top seed. It was a game that featured back-and-forth play and three ties in regulation.
Video: COL Recap: Avalanche fall to Vegas in OT, 4-3
After a scoreless first period in the head-to-head matchup in the Edmonton bubble, the Avalanche and Golden Knights traded scoring chances throughout the middle frame. Shea Theodore gave the Knights an early lead with a power-play marker 94 seconds into the stanza, but Nathan MacKinnon evened the score with his own man-advantage tally nearly five minutes later.
The Golden Knights retook the lead by knocking in a loose puck in the crease at 12:55 of the second period, but the Avs once again tied the game at 2-2 on a rebound goal from Joonas Donskoi with 5:09 left before the second intermission.
Vegas appeared to have taken the lead for good when Jonathan Marchessault scored on a penalty shot 3:02 into the third period, an advantage the Golden Knights held for most of the final regulation stanza. That was until the final 62 seconds.
With goaltender Philipp Grubauer pulled for the extra attacker, J.T. Compher knotted the contest once again for the Avalanche by poking in the puck during a scramble in the crease after Nazem Kadri's original shot rang off the crossbar.
Video: VGK@COL, RR: Compher buries rebound to tie it late
It was only fitting that the outing between two-closely matched clubs needed extra time. Vegas and Colorado again traded chances in the five-minute, 3-on-3 overtime, and it seemed as if the final round-robin contest was destined for a shootout until Vegas had a 2-on-1 rush up the ice in the final seconds of play.
Carrying the puck into the Avs' end, Alex Tuch had Alec Martinez on his right side, but the forward decided to shoot it himself, going top-shelf, far-corner to end the game with 15.9 seconds left in the OT period and giving Vegas the top seed.
The Avalanche ended up as the No. 2 seed for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and owned home-ice advantage in the first round against the Arizona Coyotes, winning in five games, and in the second round versus the Stars, falling in seven contests.
The Golden Knights went on to reach their second Western Conference Final in their first three years of existence in 2020, but they also couldn't get past the streaking Stars. Dallas won the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl for the first time in 20 years by downing Vegas in five games to move onto the Stanley Cup Final.