It all came down to the eighth and final regular season meeting between the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights determine if Vegas was going to clinch the Honda West Division title or if Colorado still had a chance at it in their remaining two games. The Avalanche ultimately pulled out a 2-1 victory after falling behind and now control their own destiny with a shot at both the division crown and President’ Trophy.
After a decent start from the Avalanche but that did not last long when it was Vegas who drew first blood. At 8:11 Alex Pietrangelo walked into open space and fired the puck past Philipp Grubauer. The rest of the period tilted in Vegas’ direction helped by that momentum swing and also some physicality which led to penalties on both teams.
Oddly enough the Avalanche only managed four shots on goal in the second frame but Andre Burakovsky helped show why the second periods have been so kind to the Avalanche. He jumped up into the offensive zone and pushed Vegas’ defense back and then flashed his tremendous wrist shot to beat Robin Lehner at 7:04 and got the Avalanche on the board to even up the game at one apiece.
The third period was a tight affair but then a completely ineffective power play in which the Avalanche did not manage a shot on goal swung momentum to the home team. A Vegas power play followed soon after but the Avalanche managed a big kill and started moving the pressure to their side.
Jared Bednar has a great feel for mixing up the lines in game based on which players are the most effective in any given night and he jumbled the lines just right to create an unexpected spark. Vegas would get caught on a bad line change when JT Compher took the puck and jumped up into the offensive zone. Alex Newhook dished the puck back to him in a great placement right at the net front and at 11:33 Compher chipped the puck past Lehner. It was Compher’s first goal in nearly a month but he chose the right time to get one which ended up as the game winning goal in such a pivotal game.
A tense rest of the third period ensued especially when Vegas got the extra attacker on the ice but the Avalanche held on and prevailed. They ended up getting outshot 21-37 and also narrowly lost the possession battle but the Avalanche came out on top in the only metric that counts which is goals in a 2-1 final score.
This win tonight positioned the Avalanche in the driver’s seat into their final two games of the regular season but they still need the four points from sweeping the Kings to guarantee the division crown and President’ Trophy. Vegas only has one game remaining but a win there will keep the pressure on. Toronto still has an outside shot at the President’ Trophy if both Colorado and Vegas falter.
A lot of players struggled under Vegas’ pressure and forecheck in this game but one of the best players at standing up to it was Andre Burakovsky who has been playing some of his best hockey as of late with four goals and nine points in the month of May. Burakovsky has enjoyed a successful and productive season as a whole as his game has matured and is able to provide the same type of complimentary offense in a consistent manner. He rarely has valleys anymore and has taken on the task of being a stabilizing force for Nazem Kadri. If the Avalanche are to go far in the playoffs Burakovsky will probably have a few more big moments.
Part of that difficulty in breaking through Vegas’ defensive pressure is the missing dynamic element on the back end. Until this game the Avalanche hadn’t defeated Vegas without Bowen Byram in the lineup and he really has helped give the defense some of their best complete games the Avalanche have seen this season. Sam Girard is the missing engine on the back end but good news is he is expected back soon and should make a huge difference in what the Avalanche are able to accomplish when the playoffs begin.
A final two-game set against the LA Kings to close out the regular season on Wednesday, May 12th at 7pm MT.