A major sigh of relief came in emphatic fashion for the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday. They closed out a series at home for the first time in franchise history, besting the Minnesota Wild in a decisive seventh game. The prize for ending that series is the second-round series that everybody wanted to see between Vegas and the Colorado Avalanche. Game 1 is at Ball Arena in Denver and the Avs are favored in the -175 range at BetOnline Sportsbook with a total of 5.5. We had some questions about the Boston Bruins and their extended layoff from having beaten Washington in five games, but they had no issues on Saturday. Will Colorado, a team that hasn’t played since last Sunday, have the same success?

Vegas Golden Knights

This is definitely a quick turnaround for Vegas. After eliminating the Wild in front of 12,000 raucous fans at T-Mobile Arena on Friday, the Golden Knights had most of a day off and then hopped a flight to Colorado to take on an arch-nemesis thanks to the way that the NHL schedule played out this season. The teams split the eight regular season meetings, but Colorado wound up taking the top spot in the West Division based on tiebreakers, as both teams had 82 points. The season series was very even, as Vegas scored 18 goals and Colorado scored 17. One of the games was a bit of a mess, as the teams were slated to play an afternoon outdoor game in Lake Tahoe, but the sunshine caused an extended delay and the game was finished at night. Colorado won that game 3-2. Five of the eight games were decided by one goal and the teams each went 2-2 on the road. The Golden Knights had a chance to finish the series with Minnesota in five games, as they came home with a 3-1 series lead, but squandered that opportunity and then lost in Game 6 as well. The extra time in the series did allow Vegas to get back Max Pacioretty and he had a goal in Game 7. The Golden Knights also ran into some COVID protocol issues, as Ryan Reaves had a false positive, but still joined Brayden McNabb on the COVID list for a few hours while that got sorted out. McNabb is not a false positive. Vegas outscored Minnesota 14-10 at 5-v-5 in the series, but a lot of that disparity came as a result of Game 7. VGK held a small edge in scoring chances and also high-danger scoring chances. It was an even series and one deserving of that win-or-go-home series finale. Marc-Andre Fleury was excellent in the blue paint with a 1.71 GAA and a .931 SV% in the series. He stopped 161 of 173 shots and made some big saves in Game 7 before the Golden Knights opened up the game in the second period. He’ll have to be at his best in this game and this series.

Colorado Avalanche

Colorado had a much easier path to this series. The St. Louis Blues were the best of the rest in the top-heavy West Division and the Avs did what was needed to secure first place and draw one of the weakest playoff teams out there. Colorado also did what was needed in the four-game sweep of St. Louis in the series that ended last Sunday. The Avalanche outscored St. Louis 10-4 at 5-v-5, nearly doubled the Blues in scoring chances, and had a 36-24 edge in high-danger chances. Colorado covered the puck line in every game and won all three games by at least three goals. A healthy Avalanche team was thought to be one of the NHL’s best and they’ve been able to get everybody in the lineup at the right time. It is fair to wonder how Colorado will do here in Game 1. The Golden Knights have had a much higher sense of urgency this week. The Avalanche will certainly take the time off after an injury-filled and condensed regular season, but sitting around for a week cannot be easy at this time of the year. Will Colorado come out flat in the first period? What will Vegas have in the tank for a big push after going a seventh game? These are all tough questions to answer. The best players were certainly at their best against the Blues. Nathan MacKinnon had nine points in just four games, including six goals. Gabriel Landeskog had eight points and Mikko Rantanen had seven. How Vegas shuts down the top players for Colorado is a big question in this series, but the Golden Knights do have a lot more depth than the Blues. He wasn’t tested a ton, but Philipp Grubauer played very well against the Blues with a 1.75 GAA and a .936 SV%. He’ll be tested more in this series to say the least.

Golden Knights vs. Avalanche Free Pick

Vegas is in a tough spot here. It was an emotional Game 7 win, but one that did lack drama once the team opened up the game with a three-goal second period. On the other hand, the Avs haven’t played in a week and will be asked to hit the ground running against a very capable and very solid Vegas bunch. I’d expect a bit of a frantic and hurried pace in the first period of this game, as Colorado burns off some excess energy and Vegas looks to start fast. With that in mind, let’s look at over 5.5 in this one. Pick: Over 5.5