The top seed for the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup playoffs will be on the line Saturday when the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche play in the final game of the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
Both teams have won their first two games, bringing in 2-0-0 records and four points. The loser of the contest will be the second seed when the Round of 16 begins next week.
Despite the fact that "home" ice will be the same for every team in Edmonton, the top seed will benefit from having the last lineup change between whistles in the best-of-seven series.
Both Vegas coach Peter DeBoer and Colorado coach Jared Bednar stressed from the start the importance of garnering the top seed and not using the round-robin tournament as just a tune-up.
"I think the teams that can get to their game the quickest and can sustain it the longest have the best chance of advancing here," DeBoer said. "These round-robin games, obviously you want the easiest path that you can get, and the easiest path would be getting the first seed."
"We want to try and get home ice," Bednar said after his team blanked the Dallas Stars, 4-0, on Wednesday. "It's been a goal of ours, and we want it.
"We're certainly trying to give ourselves every advantage we possibly can going into the playoffs, and home ice is one of them. Even though we're playing here in Edmonton (for) all our games, there are advantages to having home ice and we want to use those advantages if we can. ... I'd like to see our team rewarded for all their hard work through the regular season and get the top seed. Then we reset and we're starting over for a seven-game series."
The Avalanche edged defending Stanley Cup champion St Louis, 2-1, on Nazem Kadri's power-play goal with one-tenth of a second remaining in their opener and followed that up the shutout of the Stars as Pavel Francouz stopped 27 shots in his first career postseason start.
Vegas has had to rally to win its first two games, overcoming a 3-1 deficit with four third period goals to defeat Dallas, 5-3, and rebounding from 2-0 and 4-3 deficits to knock off the Blues, 6-4, on Thursday. The Golden Knights have outscored their opponents, 7-0, in the third period in the first two contests.
"You hope that it galvanizes your group," DeBoer said of the comeback wins. "At the very least you can bank that feeling for the future so when we're in a hole we know the game is not over and we have that confidence that we can come back and stick with it and have a little bit of patience to our game in situations."
The two teams played twice in Las Vegas before the pandemic pause with the Avalanche cruising to 6-1 and 7-3 victories.
Vegas will once again be without top scorer Max Pacioretty (32 goals, 66 points) who has yet to play in Edmonton with an undisclosed injury suffered in training camp.
"He's really close," DeBoer said of a timetable for Pacioretty's return. "That's all I can tell you now. Basically, I said he was on the horizon last time we talked about him and he's closer than that this time."
--Field Level Media