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PREVIEW: Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche continue battle for division lead

Mar 18, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog (92) celebrates his goal with center Nathan MacKinnon (29) in the first period against the Minnesota Wild at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 18, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog (92) celebrates his goal with center Nathan MacKinnon (29) in the first period against the Minnesota Wild at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Vegas and Colorado viewed their two-game set in Denver as a prelude to a possible postseason clash later in the spring.

After one game, it’s the Avalanche who look playoff ready and have the Golden Knights looking for answers.

Colorado dominated the first matchup, winning 5-1 Thursday night with a big second period that turned a 1-0 deficit into a 4-1 lead. While players talk about moving on after a loss, it won’t be so easy for Vegas.

“I don’t think you can move on when you lose a game 5-1,” Golden Knights captain Mark Stone said. “You have to sit down and look at it and see what went wrong. At first glance, (we) kind of got out-competed.

“The first period was pretty level. Take three penalties in the first (10) minutes of the second period, lose flow, lost a lot of our top guys sitting. The penalty kill did a great job, and they get a lucky goal. Just took a lot of flow out of the game, and they completely dominated us for the last 15 minutes of that period.”

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The teams meet again Saturday afternoon to wrap up the two-game set and sixth game of eight overall between them. The season series has been even, with Colorado winning three of the first five.

The Avalanche have been outclassing their opponents lately, winning eight of their last nine and earning at least a point in all nine of those games. The games with Vegas come a week after another key matchup against Minnesota, and Colorado won both of those games by a combined score of 11-1.

Like it did during the previous eight games, the Avalanche enjoyed a shots-on-goal advantage and used it to overwhelm the Golden Knights. During its streak, Colorado has been scoring enough without sacrificing on the defensive end.

“Our game starts with defensive commitment, and we go from there,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “We know what can create offense, and the buy-in for the last month and a bit has been really good, and we’re seeing the results from it.”

Colorado tied Vegas in points with the win, but the Golden Knights have played one less game. The Golden Knights can head out of town atop the West Division with a win Saturday.

“The good news is we get to play this team again and we get another chance at proving ourselves here,” said Max Pacioretty, who got the only goal for Vegas 40 seconds into the game. “We’re really upset with the way we played. We have to come to the rink (Friday) ready to do the things that’s going to prepare us to play a game we’re capable of winning against a team like that.”

The Golden Knights will need to figure out how to get more shots on goaltender Philipp Grubauer. He has been in net for the last eight wins — including one against Anaheim when he took over after the first period — and has made an average of just 21.3 saves in those games. By contrast, his teammates have put an average of 40.1 shots on opposing goalies in those games.

Related: NHL games today – 2021-22 NHL regular season schedule

–Field Level Media