Congratulations to the Vegas Golden Knights who secured the number one seed in the Western Conference with a 4-3 overtime win over the Colorado Avalanche. The Golden Knights will now face the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs while the Avalanche will face the Arizona Coyotes having secured a top-two seed before the game by beating the St Louis Blues and the Dallas Stars in previous Round Robin games.
It was an entertaining game that was only hindered by some awful officiating calls for both sides. Twenty four penalty minutes seemed excessive for a game that was never necessarily nasty. Ryan Reaves’ penalty on Sam Girard, Ryan Graves trip on Jonathan Marchessault that led to a penalty shot on which Marchessault put Vegas 3-2 up, and Brayden McNabb’s boarding on Nazem Kadri were the only three that were straightforward, other than that the refs could have kept their hands down and just let the gameplay out.
In particular, Nathan McKinnon’s first penalty was mind-boggling considering he wasn’t talking to the ref but instead his coaching staff about a bad icing call and found himself in the penalty box for two minutes on an unsportsmanlike conduct call. Remember this is a player who has been nominated for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, given to the player who is ‘adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability’. Unfortunately for MacKinnon, the empty arena meant the ref overheard his conversation and sent him to the box.
Then there was the call on Jonathan Marchessault where he was judged to have tripped Gabriel Landeskog when it looked as if it was just an innocuous coming together of the two players. Luckily for Vegas, the Avalanche continue to struggle on the Power Play and went 1 for 6, including a 5 on 3 they were unable to convert on in the first period.
And just like Power Plays are not friends of the Avalanche neither is Overtime. JT Compher’s goal with 1:02 left in the third period meant the Avalanche would have to meet this old friend and a lack of shots to test Robin Lehner always meant Vegas had a chance which Alex Tuch took with 16 seconds remaining.
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Flyers took the number one seed with a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. For the Lightning’s head coach John Cooper the result matters less than the health of defenseman Victor Hedman who left the game in the first period with a lower-body injury. While specifics of the injury will not be released due to the NHL guidelines regarding injuries during the return to play, his reaction as he left the ice said everything fans will need to know.
Already missing forward Steven Stamkos the last thing the Lightning needed was another injury to a veteran presence like Hedman and while he just seemed to turn awkwardly in his D-zone it was enough to see him leave the game after briefly trying to skate it off. As he headed down the tunnel Hedman took his frustrations out on the boardings, banging his stick against them a number of times, before proceeding back to the locker room.
The Flyers went on to dominate the game and when needed Carter Hart came up big to help them cement the top seed and a meeting with the surprise package of the Qualifiers so far… the Montreal Canadiens.