The Vegas Golden Knights have the opportunity to eliminate the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night. Anybody that watched Game 1 about a week ago would not have expected to see the Avs in this position, but the Golden Knights made some outstanding adjustments and have flustered and frustrated Colorado to the point where T-Mobile Arena will be a powder keg waiting to explode on June 10.
A loud crowd in support of the Knights will see their team take the ice as a favorite. The line is in the -130 range at BetUS Sportsbook, but we are seeing some indications of some Colorado underdog money on the overnight lines. The total is once again set at 5.5.
The Avalanche have to be frustrated. They dominated Game 1 and then took down a very even Game 2 in overtime, but have not won a game since. Frankly, they didn’t deserve to win either game in Las Vegas, though they were in a position to do so with a 2-1 lead in the waning minutes of Game 3. Game 4 was a blowout. Game 5 felt like a turning point.
Colorado finally played well, though the guys that are expected to play well did not. It looked as though the Avalanche might be able to steal one despite some very pedestrian play from Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen. Guys like JT Compher and Tyson Jost were creating the best scoring chances. That’s not what you want.
That’s what Vegas wants, though, and that’s what Vegas has done in this series. At 5-v-5, MacKinnon has scored twice, Landeskog and Rantanen each have one, but most of that offense came early in the series. MacKinnon had both 5-v-5 goals in the Game 1 blowout. Landeskog and Rantanen each had theirs in Game 1 as well. The Avs need more from their top line, otherwise this series will be over.
Philipp Grubauer also needs to play better. Grubauer was excellent in the first round and good at the start of this series, but since the third period of Game 3, he has struggled. He has a .917 SV%, but hasn’t made the key stops at the most important times and hasn’t been able to bail out the guys in front of him for their lackluster play in this series.
Vegas Golden Knights
The series really turned for Vegas in Game 3. They got back home and erased a 2-0 deficit to come away with the win. It got them back into the series and they also truly developed a blueprint for shutting down Colorado’s top line. It also felt like the Golden Knights managed to find a way to slow down the team speed for the Avs.
Minnesota was a good team, but not nearly as much of a skill-based offense as Colorado. Vegas has played a different brand of game since the Game 1 shellacking. They’ve forced the Avs to go 200 feet to generate offense and have really clogged up the neutral zone to create turnovers or, at the very least, have neutral game states in the defensive zone.
It takes a special team to be able to change game plans on the fly and Vegas has done that. They had 32 high-danger chances to just nine for Colorado in the two games at T-Mobile Arena. It was definitely an adjustment that worked. It wasn’t quite as effective in Game 5, as Colorado found a way to get going a little bit offensively, at least with the bottom lines, and doubled up Vegas in high-danger chances.
Fortunately, Marc-Andre Fleury played maybe his best game of the series at the right time. Fleury has allowed eight goals in 93 shots. It is a testament to how his teammates have played in front of him that he has only faced 93 shots over four games in the series against such a strong Colorado team, but he’s been big in net when he’s needed to be.
Avalanche vs. Golden Knights Free Pick
Colorado has to figure something out. Head coach Jared Bednar needs to find a more constructive way to use his team’s speed advantage, like some cross-corner dump-ins and additional pressure on the Vegas defense corps. That isn’t the style of game that Colorado wants to play, as they believe in puck possession and establishing the zone off the rush, but Vegas has mostly taken that away. We’ll see if Colorado can get pucks deep and play off the cycle or win races.
If Colorado does shift gears, this game, despite being an elimination game, could be a little bit more wide-open. This might be a good spot to take a look at the over 5.5, especially with Grubauer having a crisis of confidence.
Pick: Over 5.5