A 3-0 finish will net Avalanche the West Division title and Presidents’ Trophy
Monday night’s West Division showdown in Las Vegas between the Golden Knights and Avalanche is the NHL’s biggest game in the final week before the playoffs.
If the division-leading Knights win at T-Mobile Arena, they win the West and clinch the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best record and will have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. If the Avs win in regulation, then sweep the Los Angeles Kings in the final two games at Ball Arena, they win the West and the Presidents’ Trophy.
Colorado has an NHL-best 32 regulation wins — the first tiebreaker — and Vegas (29, two remaining games), and the Central Division’s Carolina Hurricanes (27, one remaining game) cannot match that.
“First meeting we had at the beginning of the year, it was, ‘We’re gunning for first.’ That’s our goal, that’s what we expect,” Avs defenseman Devon Toews said after Saturday’s 3-2 victory at Los Angeles to cap a two-game sweep over the Kings at Staples Center. “We have three games left, we have a chance to do it. It started with these two games in L.A. here, putting ourselves in the position to be able to do that.
“We got to (think) one game at a time but now we got the big one. We’re ready for it, we’re prepared, and it should be a fun one.”
Avalanche star center Nathan MacKinnon missed the Avs’ two 3-2 victories at L.A. and is listed as questionable for Monday’s game. MacKinnon’s lower-body injury is considered minor and the club wants him at 100% to begin the playoffs.
“Our job doesn’t change. It makes it more difficult without Nate in the lineup, obviously,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “But we’ve been working all year to try and get first place. We’re not going to give up on it with three games to go regardless of who’s in the lineup.”
The Avalanche (36-13-4) is 5-1 in its last six games since losing three in a row following its second COVID shutdown. In addition to MacKinnon, injury-depleted Colorado has been playing without a handful of key players, including defenseman Sam Girard and winger Brandon Saad, both out with lower-body ailments. Forward Matt Calvert and defenseman Bo Byram haven’t played since March with likely concussion-related problems and forward Logan O’Connor underwent surgery to his lower extremities.
But Girard and Saad, Bednar said, could be back during the coming week ahead of Saturday’s potential start of the playoffs. If the Avs hold off the hard-charging, third-place Minnesota Wild (35-14-5), which is 4-0-1 in its last five games, they will begin the playoffs with home-ice advantage.
Colorado leads Minnesota by a point, with a game in hand. The Wild finish with a back-to-back set at fourth-place St. Louis on Wednesday and Thursday. Vegas (39-13-2), meanwhile, will finish Wednesday at San Jose.
The West Division’s No. 1 seed will open against No. 4 St. Louis, and No. 2 will take on No. 3.