LAS VEGAS | If there’s been one knock on the Vegas Golden Knights this season, it’s been they’ve only dominated the lower half of the West Division.
They knocked that notion and their top contender back to Denver in convincing fashion Wednesday night.
Max Pacioretty scored twice to lead the Golden Knights to a 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche in a matchup of the division’s top teams.
Vegas, which has won a franchise-best 10 in a row, now leads Colorado by six points, with the Avalanche having a game in hand. The Golden Knights have outscored teams 45-17 during their win streak.
“Huge result for the standings,” said Peter DeBoer, who registered his 50th win as coach of the Golden Knights. “Gives us a real chance. We’ve still got a lot of business to take care of over the next two weeks. It sets us up where our destiny is in our own hands.”
It marked the 18th time Vegas has scored at least five goals — tops in the NHL.
Vegas, Colorado, and Minnesota, which is one point back of the Avalanche, have all clinched postseason berths. The Golden Knights are 6-6-1 against the Avalanche and Minnesota, while they’re a dominant 29-5-1 against the rest of the division.
“We’re not concerned with who they’re beating and how they’re beating them,” Colorado defenseman Ryan Graves said. “We know that they’re a good team and we respect them. We’re also confident in ourselves that we are a good team and we believe that in a seven-game series I think we’re confident in how we would fare.”
The Golden Knights have two more games at Minnesota, where they’ve won just one time since entering the league in 2017. They play Colorado once more in Las Vegas, on May 10.
“I think you got two teams if you look at the list of players they’re missing, could change the depth of their lineup,” DeBoer said about the Avalanche, who were without Joonas Donskoi, Philipp Grubauer, and Mikko Rantanen — all of whom recently exited the league’s COVID protocol.
William Karlsson, Mark Stone, and Jonathan Marchessault also scored for Vegas. Marc-Andre Fleury, who has won five in a row, made 35 saves while improving to 15-8-2 lifetime against Colorado.
Graves and Devon Toews scored for Colorado, which is 11-4-0 after a loss this season and has now lost three straight. Devan Dubnyk made 21 saves and is now 2-2 since being acquired from San Jose on April 10.
The Avalanche were burned for their seventh power-play goal in six games at 9:36 of the second period, when Pacioretty gave Vegas a 2-1 lead as he chipped a wrist shot from the blue line. Pacioretty has registered a point in a season-high eight straight games.
Stone made it 3-1 just more than 5 minutes later when he banked the puck off the back of Dubnyk from below the red line.
After Vegas turned the puck over in its own zone, Graves beat Fleury with a snapper through a screen from long range to pull the Avalanche within one. With the assist, Nathan Mackinnon extended his point streak to a career-high 15 games.
Moments after killing off a penalty that carried into the third period, the Golden Knights used the league’s stingiest defense to create an odd-man rush with their most dangerous tandem. Stone created a turnover and skated into the zone before passing to Pacioretty, who fired a wrist shot into a wide-open net for his team-leading 24th goal at 55 seconds.
Marchessault’s empty-netter with less than a minute remaining provided the final margin.
Karlsson put the Golden Knights in front just 10 seconds into the game, when he gathered a loose puck fed from defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, raced in, and netted a backhand short side on Dubnyk. It was the fastest goal to start a game in the franchise’s four-year history.
After collecting themselves from a sluggish start and two penalties, the Avalanche kept immense pressure on Fleury and it eventually paid off when Toews smacked home a rebound to tie it with 6:17 left in the first.
“Big win for us,” Stone said. “We’ve been playing some good hockey, but we want to play the best. It was nice to play them and see where we’re at. I thought we had a pretty good game. There’s things we can clean up, but getting the two points, creating some separation, was huge for us.”
STONE COLD WINNER
The Golden Knights have won their last 18 games that Stone has scored, dating back to last season.
Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb played in his 499th career game. … Pacioretty registered his 300th career assist on Stone’s goal. … Fleury is now one victory away from tying Roberto Luongo for third-most career wins at 489.
STUCK AT 999
The Avalanche remains one win shy of 1,000 since moving from Quebec to Denver in 1995.
Avalanche: Host San Jose in a back-to-back Friday and Saturday.
Golden Knights: Open a four-game road trip in Arizona on Friday.