It’s the matchup the entire hockey world wanted to see and the Avalanche gave us a 60-minute preview of why they’re not scared of the Vegas Golden Knights or their fourth-line hitman Ryan Reaves on Sunday.
The Avalanche came to play. Vegas couldn’t keep up and resorted to playing dirty.
The Golden Knights tried to physically dominate the Avs but spent 60 minutes chasing the better team. Colorado skated away with a 7-1 victory at Ball Arena after a week off. There were no signs of rust in the Avalanche’s game.
“Rest is a weapon,” Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog said. “Especially this time of year. We’ve played a lot of hockey and I think the coaching staff has done a good job of managing our rest here throughout the week and making sure we’re ready to go.”
Colorado scored six goals before the second period was over. Its power play was spectacular and looked like the Harlem Globetrotters at times. It completely outmatched the second-best team in the league in every facet of the game, led by the top line and stud defenseman Cale Makar.
“I love the way our team played tonight,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “Right away, out of the gate, skating, relentless puck pressure. Great commitment to our checking game, capitalizing on our chances. The top line set the tone, again, but our whole team was involved and playing well.”
Superstar center Nathan MacKinnon and Landeskog each scored two goals and added an assist. The third piece of that line, Mikko Rantanen, scored the opening goal and had two points. Makar finished with a goal and three assists.
And the only response Vegas had was to trot out Reaves in the third period to take shots at goaltender Philipp Grubauer and other Avs after the whistle. He did what he does best: Use his massive frame and brute force to toe the line and often cross it. On Friday he sent Minnesota’s Ryan Suter face-first into the post with a crosscheck from behind.
And against the Avs, he decided to take it one step further and get ejected for intent to injure. The match penalty means an automatic suspension as the NHL’s Department of Player Safety decides how long he sits.
If the DoPS uses the same standard on Reaves that they have time and time again on Avs center Nazem Kadri, then Reaves won’t play another game in this series.
The last angle clearly shows Ryan Reaves drive Ryan Graves’ head into the ice with his knee. If that’s not a suspension I don’t know what is.
In what world is that an acceptable hockey play?
— Drew Livingstone (@ProducerDrew_) May 31, 2021
There is no saying how Vegas will respond in Game 2. But surely its confidence heading into this matchup has been shot down. At best, the Golden Knights can try to slow the Avs down. But they can’t stop them.
That’s what Game 1 showed us.
The Deen’s List
Drawing first blood
They didn’t win Game 1 against the San Jose Sharks in 2019. They didn’t win Game 1 against the Dallas Stars in 2020. They did this year — against the second-best team in the NHL.
Colorado jumped out to a 1-0 series lead in Round 2 for the first time during this three-year stretch. And what a statement it was. Rantanen, a left-shot right winger, used a wicked backhand from the right circle to give the Avs a 1-0 lead just 4:58 into the game.
The Avs are searching for their first conference-final appearance since 2002.
They’re one game closer.
Lehner gets the nod
It was a puzzling decision by Knights head coach Peter DeBoer.
The Golden Knights surprised many when they chose to turn to goalie Robin Lehner for Game 1. Lehner had not started a game since a 2-1 loss to the Avalanche on May 10 — his only start against Colorado.
They sat a future Hall of Famer and a potential Vezina Trophy finalist to give their second goalie a sniff of playoff action.
Lehner allowed seven goals. The Avalanche swarmed him early and did not let up. His defense didn’t help him much, if at all, but the move was still a curious one from DeBoer. Especially when you consider the record the guy sitting on the bench has against the Avs this year.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas’ backup on Sunday, helped the Golden Knights to a seven-game series victory over the Minnesota Wild in the first round. He was also 4-3 in seven starts against the Avs during the regular season, recording two shutouts and posting a .932 save percentage.
Not sure who DeBoer goes with in Game 2. But the disrespect to Fleury is very much showing. There is no reason why he shouldn’t have gotten the start.
“I don’t care who’s in net, to be honest with you,” Landeskog said.
Vegas starts its fourth line
DeBoer tried to set the tone early. He chose to start his fourth line off the opening faceoff. The Avs countered with a more skillful line — maybe the best line in the NHL.
MacKinnon, Landeskog and Rantanen didn’t score on that first shift but they swarmed the Knights every chance they had. That’s not the line you want going toe-to-toe with Reaves and company.
Rantanen’s historic run
The Moose is loose. It’s actually been loose for 15 straight games spanning two postseasons.
Rantanen’s three points extended his playoff point streak to 15 games. He entered the game tied with MacKinnon (14 games, all in 2020) for the longest playoff point streak in Avalanche history over two postseasons.
Let’s recognize just how much of an offensive threat this rendition of the Avalanche truly is.
Colorado has scored five or more goals in four consecutive games dating back to Game 2 against the St. Louis Blues. It’s the first time in franchise history the Avs have accomplished the feat in four straight playoff games.
And the one game they didn’t score five? A 4-1 victory in Game 1 against St. Louis.
They have 27 goals in five games and are just the fifth team since 1927 to score that many and start the postseason 5-0. The last four teams all made it to the Stanley Cup Final. And three of them won the Cup.
Statement victory from the Avalanche in Game 1, defeating the Golden Knights 7-1.@runwriteAarif and @JJoftheYear share their post-game thoughts from Ball Arena. #GoAvsGo #HockeyTwitter #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/Xao381bmJU
— milehighsports (@MileHighSports) May 31, 2021