will play Monday when the Avalanche face Vegas in a game that will determine if they remain in the hunt for first place in the West Division.
The Golden Knights would clinch first with a win.
Here are the GAME NOTES.
MacKinnon, the Avalanche’s leading scorer with 65 points (20 goals, 45 assists) in 47 games, missed the Avalanche’s recent two-game sweep of the Los Angeles Kings with a lower-body injury.
The Avalanche trail first-place Vegas by four points with one game in hand and three games remaining. They have a one-point lead over Minnesota, also with one game in hand.
“When you get your top player, top player in the league back, that’s definitely going to benefit your team no doubt,” captain Gabriel Landeskog
said. “It’s good to have Nate back and I’m glad he’s feeling good enough to play. It’s important for us that he’s healthy.”
Landeskog pointed out, while this is a big game, the Avalanche needed to beat St. Louis in the regular-season finale four years ago just to get into the playoffs. They did it with a 5-2 win to end a three-year postseason drought.
“We want to win the division, don’t get me wrong, but I think Game 82 against St. Louis at home a few years ago was a little bit bigger than this one,” he said. “At that point we were playing for our playoff lives.
“The way we approach this one is go out and play and compete and have that same mindset we’ve had the last few games. We know it’s going to be a tight match and we’re excited for it.”
Coach Jared Bednar
said players seemed more quiet than usual Monday morning, attributing that to being focused.
“Guys understand the importance of the game and you could tell it was just a little bit of a different feeling with our team this morning,” he said.
Players will need to perform with energy but can’t get too ramped up that it affects their play.
“It’s a focus thing for me,” Bednar said. “If our team is focused and we play with the right level of determination and competitiveness … when you’re focused your intensity will be good, your execution will be good.
“I don’t want them to be scared of the moment, I want them to go out and play our game and dictate the pace of play, but the game has to be played with emotion and passion and fire. As long as we stay disciplined, I think the more energy and passion you bring to the game, the better.”
Bednar said injured players Samuel Girard, Brandon Saad
and Bowen Byram
have been skating in Colorado, that Girard is the closest to returning. Matt Calvert
and Logan O’Conner
remain out long term.
has been nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy by the Colorado chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. The trophy is awarded for perseverance and dedication to hockey.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Nichushkin, who was Dallas’ first-round pick (No. 10) in the 2013 NHL draft, had 14 goals and 34 points as a rookie in 2013-14. He struggled after that, went back to Russia to play a couple of seasons, then played 57 games without scoring a goal with the Stars in 2018-19.
The Avalanche signed him as a free agent after Dallas bought out his contract before the 2019-20 season, when he ended a 91-game goal drought and finished with 13 goals and 27 points in 65 games. He has 10 goals and 20 points in 52 games this season, kills penalties and is solid defensively.
“Real good story there,” Bednar said. “Drafted high, turns pro as a highly-touted prospect, goes through some ups getting into the league right away and then some downs where he went a whole year and had a tough time scoring.
“Now a change of scenery with a new team, he earns more opportunity and becomes an extremely valuable player for us and a guy we rely on heavily.”
The projected lineup:
Gabriel Landeskog -- Nathan MacKinnon -- Mikko Rantanen
Valeri Nichushkin -- Tyson Jost -- Joonas Donskoi
Nazem Kadri -- Alex Newhook -- Andre Burakovsky
Carl Soderberg -- Pierre-Edouard Bellemare -- J.T. Compher
Devon Toews -- Cale Makar
Ryan Graves -- Conor Timmins
Dan Renouf -- Jacob MacDonald