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Colorado Avalanche Game Day: First place on the line

Though they are four points behind Vegas with only four games remaining, the Avalanche hold their own destiny

Colorado Avalanche v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Avalanche: (36-13-4)
The Opponent: Los Angeles Kings (39-13-2)
Puck drop: 8:00 p.m. MT
Watch: Sportsnet, ESPN+, ALT, ATTSN
Listen: [Radio] Altitude 92.5, AM 950

Going into the final week of the regular season, the Colorado Avalanche still have a chance to grab the first seed in the West Division, with tonight's game being the key to it. Three more regulation wins and the Avs will grab top spot and home ice advantage through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.

On the flip side, the Vegas Golden Knights only need a single point against Colorado to clinch the division title.

These two teams are in very similar situations as they have used the last week to rest stars, play their top prospects and work out any remaining kinks in the system before the postseason.

With that in mind, tonight’s contest is likely to feel like a lot more than two teams just playing out the string as both side will look to establish momentum in front of a potential second round matchup.

Colorado Avalanche

With Nathan MacKinnon out of the lineup, coach Bednar has promoted Tyson Jost to the top line and he’s looked pretty darn good there. Jost added a new element to the offensively potent line and showed the coaching staff that he can fit in perfectly between Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog if the Avs are forced to try to find new matchups in the playoffs.

The other noticeable impact of MacKinnon being out of the lineup was just how dominant Cale Makar can be. The superstar defenseman always looks good but he spent the weekend taking his game to a new level and showing that he can have as big an impact at both ends of the ice as anyone on the team. Makar has spent the last week closing the gap on Adam Fox for the leading point producer among defenseman. If he’s able to continue this play over the remaining three games, Makar will likely close the gap in Norris Trophy voting as well.

One interesting roster note is that rookie Sampo Ranta has been called up from the Eagles to join the taxi squad.

Projected Lineup

UPDATE: Nathan MacKinnon will return to the lineup tonight

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MaKinnon - Mikko Rantanen

Val Nichushkin - Tyson Jost - Joonas Donskoi

Nazem Kadri - Alex Newhook - Andre Burakovsky

Carl Soderberg - P-E Bellemare - JT Compher

Devon Toews - Cale Makar

Ryan Graves - Conor Timmins

Jacob MacDonald - Patrik Nemeth

Vegas Golden Knights

Like the Avalanche, Vegas has been playing their last few games with the goal of staying healthy for the playoffs. The team has able to rest Max Pacioretty over the weekend while he works through some bumps and busies - allowing rookie prospect Peyton Krebs to play up in the lineup.

With their leading scorer out of the lineup, the team’s second line has been picking up the slack lately with Reilly Smith scoring five goals in his last three outings, including a hat trick Saturday night.

Vegas has won four of their last five games, however, they’ve needed overtime to accomplish that feat in three of the victories. Fortunately for the Golden Knights, forcing the extra frame is all they need to secure the West Division title.

Like with MacKinnon, Pacioretty will be a game time decision after missing the team’s last two games.

Projected Lineup

Peyton Krebs - Chandler Stephenson - Mark Stone

Jonathan Marchessault - William Karlsson - Riley Smith

Mathias Janmark - Nicolas Roy - Alex Tuch

William Carrier - Keegan Kolesar

Alec Martinez - Alex Pietrangelo

Brayden McNabb - Shea Theodore

Nic Hague - Zach Whitecloud

The Goalies

Vegas has been alternating their two goalies in an attempt to get both ready for a long playoff run. If that trend continues, Robin Lehner will be in net tonight with Marc-Andre Fleury backing him up. Though that could change if the VGK coaching staff decides they want to run with Fleury as their best attempt to beat the Avalanche and clinch first place.

For the Avalanche, we’re going to see Philipp Grubauer back in net after he was given the night off on Saturday. Colorado’s starter comes into the game with a 28-9-1 record and a .919 sv%.