The Vegas Golden Knights can advance to the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in their four seasons with a win in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Second Round at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday.
The Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season of 2017-18 and the Western Conference Final last season. If they advance to the NHL Semifinals this season, they will become the third team in NHL history to go that far three times in the team’s first four seasons.
The New York Rangers did it in each of their first four seasons, from 1926-30, when the NHL had 10 teams. The St. Louis Blues did it in each of their first three seasons, from 1967-70, when the League expanded from six teams to 12 and the format guaranteed an expansion team would make the Cup Final.
Vegas has won three games in a row, including Games 3 and 4 at home.
“I think guys are smart enough to understand the opportunity that’s in front of us here, and you’ve got to embrace that and just go and play a great hockey game,” Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said. “I think we’re going to have the fans behind us. We’re at home. Where else would you want to be?”
Colorado has not lost four in a row at any point this season.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to win in this building,” Avalanche defenseman Devon Toews said. “We were here for two games before and couldn’t get the job done in either of those games, so it’s a good opportunity for our group to show up. We feel like we’re trending in the right direction. We haven’t played our best yet either, so we’re ready for that.”
The Golden Knights have lost Game 6 three out of four times they have led a best-of-7 series 3-2, including in the first round against the Minnesota Wild. But they have gone on to lose Game 7 once, against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference First Round in 2019.
The Avalanche have won Game 6 when trailing a best-of-7 series 3-2 in the second round each of the past two seasons, against the Sharks in 2019 and the Dallas Stars last season. But each time they lost Game 7.
Here are 3 Keys for Game 6:
1. Bednar behind the bench
Colorado coach Jared Bednar was cleared to coach the Avalanche after an irregularity with his COVID-19 test results kept him away from the team during its morning skate.
What could have been a major disruption turned into a minimal distraction.
“We’re thinking that he’ll be back tonight, but if not, we know what to do,” forward Joonas Donskoi said prior to Bednar being cleared.
The Avalanche are facing elimination on the road, and now will have their coach to manage the matchups and line combinations.
The Vegas line that includes Mark Stone, a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL, and Chandler Stephenson, a speedy center, has shut down the Colorado top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen at even strength the past three games.
Bednar flipped Landeskog and Brandon Saad on the first and second lines as part of line shuffling in Game 5 to some success. The Avalanche won’t have the last change at Vegas.
MacKinnon was named a finalist for the Hart Trophy on Thursday. That goes to the most valuable player in the regular season.
He was a leading candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy, which goes to the MVP of the playoffs, through the first two games of this series. At that point he had scored 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in six games.
MacKinnon hasn’t scored a point since. His last three-game point drought? Games 5-7 of the Western Conference Second Round in 2019, when the Avalanche lost to the Sharks. San Jose’s coach then? DeBoer.
A big night from MacKinnon could save Colorado’s season and resurrect his Conn Smythe chances.
3. Clinching/elimination game heroes
Avalanche forward Andre Burakovsky hasn’t scored a goal in nine playoff games and committed a turnover that was the turning point in Game 5. It came with Colorado leading 2-0 in the third period and led to a goal by Vegas forward Alex Tuch. The Avalanche went on to lose 3-2 in overtime.
What better way to redeem himself than by scoring a big goal in Game 6? Burakovsky has scored nine goals when facing elimination in his NHL career, including three in the second round last season. Only Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (13), Montreal Canadiens forward Corey Perry (10) and New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider (10) have scored more goals when facing elimination among active players.
Burakovsky will have to beat Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, though. Fleury has won 15 games when his team can clinch a series in his NHL career, one behind Mike Vernon for seventh in NHL history. He has four shutouts in such situations, one behind Clint Benedict (five) and Chris Osgood (five) for the most in NHL history.
Avalanche projected lineup
Brandon Saad — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen
Gabriel Landeskog — J.T. Compher — Valeri Nichushkin
Andre Burakovsky — Tyson Jost — Logan O’Connor
Alex Newhook — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — Joonas Donskoi
Devon Toews — Cale Makar
Ryan Graves — Samuel Girard
Patrik Nemeth — Conor Timmins
Scratched: Bowen Byram, Jonas Johansson, Jacob MacDonald, Jayson Megna, Liam O’Brien, Sampo Ranta, Dan Renouf, Kiefer Sherwood, Carl Soderberg
Injured: Matt Calvert (upper body)
Suspended: Nazem Kadri
Golden Knights projected lineup
Max Pacioretty — Chandler Stephenson — Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault — William Karlsson — Reilly Smith
Mattias Janmark — Nicolas Roy — Alex Tuch
William Carrier — Keegan Kolesar — Ryan Reaves
Alec Martinez — Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb — Shea Theodore
Nick Holden — Zach Whitecloud
Injured: Tomas Nosek (undisclosed), Peyton Krebs (jaw)
Compher didn’t skate but likely will play Thursday. He also didn’t skate the morning of Game 5 but was in the lineup that night. … Kadri will complete his eight-game suspension from the NHL Department of Player Safety. The center will be eligible to play Game 7 on Friday, if necessary. … Reaves could return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch in Game 5. … Krebs, a forward, skated on his own before an optional morning skate.