Avalanche vs. Golden Knights series preview

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Since the unveiling of the divisions and playoff format, this highly anticipated series felt almost inevitable.

The Minnesota Wild tried to throw a wrench into our plans, but the inescapable has been confirmed. The regular season's top two teams will meet for West Division supremacy in what might be the most enticing series of the entire playoffs.

1. Avalanche (-185) versus 2. Golden Knights (+165)

Overall

AVALANCHE STAT GOLDEN KNIGHTS
39-13-4 Record 40-14-2
4-3-1 H2H 4-4-0
60.71 (1st) xGF%* 54.02 (5th)
60.32 (1st) CF%* 54.56 (4th)
58.65 (1st) HDCF%* 53.47 (9th)
8.72 (8th) SH%* 9.5 (3rd)
.916 (17th) SV%* .920 (11th)
22.7 (8th) PP% 17.8 (22nd)
83.1 (8th) PK% 86.8 (1st)

*Five-on-five

Head-to-head

DATE HOME-AWAY xG* CF%* HDCF* GOALIES
2/14 VGK 1 - COL 0 1.86 - 2.58 44.19 - 55.81 9 - 9 Fleury - Grubauer
2/16 VGK 2 - COL 3 2.53 - 2.4 48.09 - 51.91 15 - 6 Fleury - Grubauer
2/20 COL 3 - VGK 2** 1.75 - 1.42 55 - 45 5 - 5 Fleury - Grubauer
2/22 COL 0 - VGK 3 1.86 - 1.87 51.4 - 48.6 9 - 7 Grubauer - Fleury
3/25 COL 5 - VGK 1 3.16 - 1.39 54.41 - 45.59 12 - 9 Grubauer - Fleury
3/27 COL 2 - VGK 3 OT 0.95 - 1.62 50.16 - 49.84 3 - 7 Grubauer - Fleury
4/28 VGK 5 - COL 2 2.75 - 2.36 46.05 - 53.95 11 - 10 Fleury - Dubnyk
5/10 VGK 1 - COL 2 1.58 - 2.38 52.11 - 47.89 6 - 9 Lehner - Grubauer

*All strengths
**Game played at Lake Tahoe

The Avalanche absolutely destroyed the St. Louis Blues in their first-round series. Colorado made quick work of the 2019 Stanley Cup champions, trailing only once in the entire series for all of seven minutes in Game 4.

Colorado outscored its opponent 20-7, won every game by at least three goals, controlled 69% of the expected goal share, posted first-round bests in xGF/60 and xGA/60, converted 50% of its power-play opportunities, and featured 11 different goal-scorers. The top line combined for a ridiculous 24 points.

This series won't be as straightforward for the Avs, but such dominance shows just how good they really are. Their best players have a history of elevating their game in the playoffs and again seemed to find another gear in Round 1 following an already strong regular season - a scary proposition for the rest of the league.

When the puck drops in Game 1 on Sunday, the Avs will have been off for a full week, resting and recovering from a first-round series that closely resembled a training session, while the Golden Knights will be less than 48 hours removed from an incredibly demanding Game 7. They were pushed to the brink by the Wild in an emotionally and physically draining series, and now face the daunting task of having to face an Avalanche team that's exhausting to play against.

The Knights were first and the Wild were second in hits in Round 1, while the Avalanche and Blues were last and second-last, respectively. Furthermore, of the 423 minutes in the Vegas-Minnesota series, the games were tied or within a goal for a little over 318 (75%). Colorado's series was never close.

This is reminiscent of Tampa Bay Lightning-Boston Bruins in 2018. They finished a runaway first and second in the Atlantic, and a second-round showdown felt certain. Both teams got through the first round, but Boston was pushed to its limits by the Toronto Maple Leafs while Tampa breezed by the New Jersey Devils, and it resulted in the Lightning beating the Bruins comfortably in five games. Every situation is different, but any lapses in energy or intensity from Vegas are sure to be punished by a Colorado team that needs no invitation.

If the Knights are looking for something to hang their hats on ahead of this series, they can take solace in the fact they actually played better against the Avalanche this season than they did the Wild; Minnesota has historically given them trouble, so a first-round slugfest certainly wasn't a surprise.

The Knights were a respectable 4-4-0 against Colorado this season, though the Avalanche held the edge in xGF% and CF% at five-on-five and were 4-2-1 in Philipp Grubauer starts. Both regulation losses came as a result of Marc-Andre Fleury shutouts, with the first coming in their initial meeting of the season when the Avs were without Gabriel Landeskog, Cale Makar, and Samuel Girard.

For Vegas to have success, Fleury will have to be excellent once again. He began the Minnesota series in terrific form but really lacked sharpness over the final three games. The Knights owned 61.5% of the expected goal share in Games 5 and 6 but lost both with Fleury saving 3.37 goals below expected. Those performances can't happen against this dynamic Colorado offense.

The one concerning bit for Vegas is the fact Colorado managed to edge the season series despite virtually no contributions from its lethal power play. The Avalanche went just 1-for-21 with the man advantage against the Knights, shooting 3.7%. That's a far cry from the 13.6% they shot on the power play this season, suggesting positive regression is in order.

However, Vegas did possess the league's best penalty kill this year - a vast improvement after finishing 27th (76.6%) last season. But power plays can be streaky, and Colorado's is scorching-hot right now after converting at a 50% clip in the first round.

Despite how close these teams were in the regular season, the Knights' margin for error feels razor-thin given the level the Avalanche are playing at right now. It's going to require a gutsy team effort, and they must tread a fine line between playing aggressive and staying disciplined. A heavy forecheck will be key against a group of top-three defensemen whose average size is 5'11, 183 pounds.

If Vegas can contain Colorado's power play and receive the sort of elite goaltending from Fleury they know he's capable of providing, this series can certainly go the distance. Still, even without Nazem Kadri - J.T. Compher is coming off a terrific season and has filled in excellently on the second line - the Avalanche have too much firepower atop the lineup, and depth down it.

Max Pacioretty helped alleviate Vegas' scoring issues in Game 7, but his health is a question mark after he missed the past four weeks and was limited to just 16:28 in his return. He'll have only one day off before this series starts, and it's hard to see the Knights keeping up without anything but a full contribution from their leading goal scorer. Even with him at full health, it's a tall order against the clear-cut Stanley Cup favorites.

Pick: Avalanche (-185)

Alex Moretto is theScore's supervising editor of sports betting. Find him on Twitter @alexjmoretto.

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Avalanche vs. Golden Knights series preview
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