Avalanche blaze past Knights 7-1 in penalty-filled Game 1

Sports

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) scores a goal against Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner (90) in the second period of Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series Sunday, May 30, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

DENVER (AP) — The book on Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche: They’re extremely speedy.

An overlooked chapter in that book: They can turn physical, too, when push comes to shove.

MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog each scored twice and the well-rested Avalanche made quick work of Vegas with their speed, beating the Golden Knights 7-1 on Sunday night in a skirmish-filled Game 1 of their second-round playoff series.

What began with Colorado putting on a passing clinic — racing to a 5-0 lead — spiraled into one fight after another. There were a total of 74 penalty minutes between the teams, including four 10-minute misconduct calls in the third period and a match penalty on Vegas’ Ryan Reaves for attempting to injure an opponent.

“I don’t think you can call that physicality to be honest with you,” Landeskog said. “Reaves is on a mission to hurt somebody in the third and that’s what he goes out and does. I’m sure the league will take a look at it, intent to injure.”

Cale Makar, a 22-year-old defenseman, added a goal and three assists. Brandon Saad and Mikko Rantanen also scored for the Avalanche, who had an extra burst after nearly a week break following a four-game sweep of St. Louis in the first round.

“Everyone took it serious, the break. Wasn’t a vacation,” MacKinnon said. “Everyone was ready to go and we had a great start.”

William Karlsson scored the lone goal for Vegas. Robin Lehner was a surprise starter in net and stopped 30 shots in his first appearance of these playoffs. He stepped in for Marc-Andre Fleury, who was in goal for all seven games as the Golden Knights eliminated Minnesota on Friday.

“Playoffs are about having short memories and getting ready for the next one,” Vegas coach Pete DeBoer said. “The bottom line was we weren’t good enough tonight. They were very good.”

Game 2 is Wednesday in Denver.

Rantanen got things going with a first-period goal to energize a crowd that was recently expanded to 10,500 fans (official attendance was 10,489). They saw Philipp Grubauer finish with 24 saves and 11 Colorado players record an assist.

Then, there was a whole lot of pushing and shoving.

Things turned testy soon after Mattias Janmark took a big hit from Avs defenseman Ryan Graves at 8:26 of the second period. Graves’ shoulder-to-chest check knocked Janmark into the boards and he was helped off the ice. He didn’t return and DeBoer didn’t have an update.

The Golden Knights were none-too-pleased with the shot. William Carrier later took back-to-back roughing penalties on Makar and then Graves.

“Defenseless player. It’s a blindside interference,” Vegas captain Mark Stone said. “Obviously didn’t like the hit.”

It only got rougher in the third period. Max Pacioretty drew a roughing penalty on Avs defenseman Samuel Girard as the Vegas forward swung his shoulder and stick with 16:13 remaining. The hit led to a flurry of pushing and shoving.

Later, Reaves was assessed a roughing penalty for knocking down Graves, setting off a melee that resulted in misconduct calls on Saad, Valeri Nichushkin, Zach Whitecloud and Alex Pietrangelo.

“We knew they were going to play physical and had to be ready for it,” Makar said. “It might happen in the next game, but we’ll be ready for it.”

Vegas drew 44 penalty minutes and Colorado 30.

Despite the lopsided series opener, this figured to be an evenly matched series considering both teams won four games against the other during the regular season. They also tied for the most points in the league, but the Avalanche earned the coveted Presidents’ Trophy — along with home-ice advantage throughout the postseason — courtesy of a tiebreaker (more regulation wins).

“It’s going to be a heck of a matchup and a heck of a series, that’s for sure,” Vegas forward Alex Tuch said.

MAC’S ATTACK

MacKinnon has eight goals so far in the postseason. He’s the seventh player in league history to score at least eight goals through his first five games, according to research by NHL Stats.

MIKKO’S STREAK

Rantanen has recorded at least a point in a Colorado-record 15 straight playoff games. He also had an assist.

AROUND THE RINK

Avalanche D Erik Johnson (upper body) skated Sunday. He hasn’t played since leaving the game on Jan. 30. … Avs F Nazem Kadri served the third of his eight-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head during the Blues series. … Avs F Sampo Ranta made his NHL debut. Ranta turns 21 on Monday.

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