Avalanche crushes Golden Knights 7-1 in chippy Game 1 – The Denver Post

That concern about a weeklong break between games, and facing a team playing off momentum from their Game 7 victory at home in Las Vegas?

Fahgetaboutit.

On a rainy night outside Ball Arena but an electrifying atmosphere inside the building Sunday, the rested Avalanche steamrolled the Vegas Golden Knights in what turned into a chippy Game 1 of their second-round series.

Colorado came out flying, getting a goal from right winger Mikko Rantanen within the first five minutes and cruised to a 7-1 victory to improve to 5-0 in the postseason.

“I love the way our team played tonight,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “Right away, out of the gate, skating, relentless puck pressure. Great commitment to our checking game, capitalizing on our chances. The top line set the tone, again, but our whole team was involved and playing well.”

Following the Avs’ four-goal second period, the third took seemingly twice as long to complete. Vegas turned physical, Colorado didn’t back down, and there were eight penalties within the first 8:04 of the frame — including four misconducts and a match penalty to Knights enforcer Ryan Reaves for punching helmetless Avs defenseman Ryan Graves while he was lying under a pile on the ice.

Avs defenseman Cale Makar scored a power-play goal with four combined players in the penalty boxes late in the third period for his fourth point of the game.

“(Makar) was dangerous every time he was out there and I think overall, our D core did a great job with breaking the puck out, jumping up in the rush, creating 4-on-3s and things like that,” Avs captain Gabe Landeskog said.

This series features the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Avs and the second team to finish with a league-high 82 points. But the Golden Knights, who were edged out for the regular-season trophy by a tiebreaker, lost big in Game 1 because Colorado’s best players threw daggers at the visitors from start to finish.

The Avs’ top line of Rantanen, center Nathan MacKinnon and left winger Landeskog combined for five goals through two periods, and third-line wing Brandon Saad also scored to give the hosts a 6-1 lead through two periods.

“Everyone took it seriously, the break. It wasn’t a vacation,” MacKinnon said. “Everyone was ready to go. And we had a great start.”

Makar assisted on Colorado’s first three goals and his counterparts on Vegas’ blue line struggled in front of goalie Robin Lehner, the surprise starter over Marc-Andre Fleury. The Knights’ defensive pair of Alex Pietrangelo and Alec Martinez were both minus-2 after Colorado took a 2-0 lead into the second period.

Norris Trophy candidate Shea Theodore, who plays big minutes on Vegas’ second defensive pairing, also couldn’t slow down Colorado’s relentless attack.

The onslaught began early. The left-shot Rantanen scored with a wicked backhand from the right wing 4:55 into the game and Landeskog doubled the lead at 10:13 off a diagonal feed from Makar. Saad, MacKinnon and Landeskog (power play) scored at 1:04, 4:03 and 14:23 of the second period for a 5-0 lead.

Vegas’ William Karlsson finally solved goalie Philipp Grubauer at 14:59 but MacKinnon struck again on a sensational rush to extend his playoff-leading goal total to eight.

Game 2 is Wednesday, and if the Knights don’t have an answer for MacKinnon and company, they’ll return home 0-2 with Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Sunday at T-Mobile Arena.

Footnotes. Finnish forward Sampo Ranta made his NHL debut on the Avs’ fourth line. Ranta, a 2018 third-round draft pick, turns 21 on Monday. … Avs second-line center Nazem Kadri served the third game of his eight-game suspension for a check to the head of St. Louis defenseman Justin Faulk in Game 2 of the first-round series. Kadri appealed his suspension Thursday but the NHL has yet to rule on it. … Defenseman Erik Johnson was among the few Avalanche players to participate in Sunday’s morning skate. The 33-year-old Johnson, the team’s most senior member, hasn’t played since Jan. 30 because of an upper-body injury. “EJ” is still likely weeks away from a possible return but is one of Colorado’s core leaders. “Guys like having him around. Obviously, he’s a lot of fun and a committed teammate,” Bednar said. … Avs depth forward Jayson Megna and Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb remain the only players on the NHL’s COVID absence protocol list. McNabb is a regular for the Knights.

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