The Colorado Avalanche is set to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the first ever playoff series between the clubs in Round 2 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They will take the ice for Game 1 of the best-of-seven set on Sunday at Ball Arena at 6 p.m. MT.
Colorado and Vegas finished the regular season tied with 82 points apiece, the most in the league, but the Avalanche claimed the Presidents' Trophy by way of a tiebreaker (regulation wins, 35-30).
The race for the title came down to the last contest of the season when Colorado, which finished with its highest points percentage in franchise history (.732), became the first team to win the trophy in its final game of the year since the Vancouver Canucks in 2011-12. It could become a factor in this series as the Avs own home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the winners of the main campaign. If there is a Game 7, it will be held in Denver in front of Avs Faithful.
Since the NHL switched to a division playoff format in 2013-14, this is the third time in eight seasons that the league's top two teams from the regular season are meeting in the second round. In 2016-17, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins faced off against one another and the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets did so as well in 2017-18.
The Avs finished 4-3-1 against the Golden Knights in the eight-game regular season series, with five of those matchups being decided by one goal. The squads met four games in a row from Feb. 14-22, splitting the set (both went 2-2-0).
The clubs also faced off in the NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe event on Feb. 20. The Avalanche earned a 3-2 victory in the contest, which was postponed eight hours after the first period due to deteriorating ice conditions from a sunny day in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Nathan MacKinnon factored on all three goals, tallying once and contributing two assists, and Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves in the Avs' win.
"We've played pretty well against Vegas in physical games, we've played pretty well against them in games that have been up and down. They've bettered us a few times, we've got the better of them a few times," head coach Jared Bednar said of the season series. "You go through a 56-game schedule, and we finished tied for points. In our eight-game series against them, we finished one point ahead of them, so this is two evenly-matched teams. A little bit of a different style, but both teams are deep, both teams play with a lot of speed, both teams have good goaltending. It's a little bit of different styles, but I'm expecting a long, hard series here and so is our team.
"We're just trying to go out and play our game to the best of our ability… Our compete level is going to have to be through the roof, and we just got to make sure we're doing everything we can to help our teammates out to make sure they're not taking big licks. Part of that is communication, part of it is moving pucks ups, part of it is getting in the right spot, doing the early work so there's outlet passes so guys don't have to hang onto the puck. You got to move the puck ahead of their pressure."
Video: Jared Bednar talks about facing Vegas after practice
In the season series, Colorado averaged 2.13 goals for and 2.25 goals against and netted an 83.3-percent success rate on the penalty kill, going 20-for-24. Vegas' man-down unit performed very well against the Avs, only allowing them to score on 4.8 percent of their power plays.
Nathan MacKinnon skated in all eight outings against the Knights and posted six points (two goals, four assists) while defenseman Devon Toews was second on the squad against Vegas with five points (three goals, two assists). J.T. Compher led Colorado with two game-winners against the division foe, scoring the deciding marker in a 5-1 win on March 25 and a 2-1 victory on May 10, the last meeting between the clubs.
Philipp Grubauer played in seven of the eight contests and went 4-2-1 with a .935 save percentage and 1.86 goals-against average, while Devan Dubnyk started in one outing against Vegas (21 saves on 25 shots).
The Golden Knights were led offensively against Colorado by Max Pacioretty, who had six goals and two assists in seven games. Mark Stone led the club with five assists and also added a goal to finish the regular-season series with six points. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury played in seven of the eight contests and went 4-3-0 with two shutouts, a .932 save percentage and 2.89 goals-against average.
Colorado is coming off a series sweep against the St. Louis Blues, outscoring St. Louis 20-7 in four outings. The Avalanche has scored five or more goals in three straight playoff games for the first time since April 24-May 2, 1997. The club trailed the Blues for only 7:12 of the entire first-round series and not until the fourth and final game, leading for over 68 percent of the time in the best-of-seven set.
Vegas advanced to the second round after earning a 6-2 victory in Game 7 against the Minnesota Wild on Friday. Mattias Janmark, who tallied three times in the decisive seventh outing, led the team with six points (three goals, three assists) in the series. Mark Stone (four goals, one assist), Alex Tuch (three goals, two assists) and Chandler Stephenson all tied for second on the team with five points. Fleury was in net for all seven games, posting one shutout along with a .931 save percentage and 1.71 goals-against average.
The Avs and Golden Knights have never met in a playoff series, although the teams did play one postseason game last year in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, a game that Colorado dropped 4-3 in overtime when Alex Tuch scored with 16 seconds remaining in the extra frame.
The squads will open the series on Sunday night at Ball Arena with the Avs also hosting the Knights in Game 2 before the series shifts to Las Vegas for Games 3-4. If necessary, Colorado will take on Vegas at Ball Arena for Games 5 and 7 while the Golden Knights will host a possible Game 6 at T-Mobile Arena.