There long has been a sense among the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights that it could come down to this.
The West Division title could be decided Monday night when the Golden Knights (39-13-2, 80 points) host the Avalanche (36-13-4, 76 points).
"We talked a month ago about making sure when we got Colorado to town at the end of the season that that game meant something," Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said after a 4-1 victory against visiting St. Louis on Saturday. "We've done a lot of work over the last five, six weeks to make it happen, and we did.
"Right now, that's the biggest game of the year. It doesn't get any bigger than Monday night."
Vegas' Reilly Smith had a hat trick Saturday, the first of his career.
"It took me over 600 games to get a hat trick," Smith said. "It's obviously a big moment for me and I'm happy about it, but there's a lot of guys who helped me put the puck in the back of the net."
Not only can the Golden Knights clinch the division title with a victory Monday, but they also could win the Presidents' Trophy for the best overall record in the league. Vegas is tied with Carolina for that distinction, which also comes with the overall No. 1 playoff seed.
"We're trying to get home-ice advantage," said Vegas forward William Carrier, whose team has won seven straight games at home and is 21-4-2 this season at T-Mobile Arena. "Finishing first in the league guarantees you'll have that in every round."
If the Avalanche win Monday, they could claim the division title by sweeping a home series with the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday and Thursday.
Defenseman Devon Toews scored twice Saturday as the Avalanche won 3-2 at Los Angeles. It was the first multi-goal game of Toews' career.
"First meeting we had in the beginning of the year, (the message) was we're gunning for first," Toews said. "That's our goal, that's what we expect, and we have three games left, and we have a chance to do it. It started with these two games in L.A. here, putting ourselves in a position to be able to do that. We got to go one game at a time, but now we got the big one. We're ready for it, we're prepared, and it should be a fun one."
The Avalanche might be without leader scorer Nathan MacKinnon, who has missed the past two games with a lower-body injury. MacKinnon is tied for fifth in the league with 65 points.
Colorado coach Jared Bednar said MacKinnon's status for Monday might not be known until game time.
"We're just going to be smart," Bednar said of getting MacKinnon back in the lineup. "If he's hurting and can't go, or if we feel like there's risk of him getting worse, then we won't play him.
"That will be a decision after talking with him and seeing how he's feeling, and I won't make that decision until game time -- or morning at the earliest and game time at the latest. If it's something that he wants to do and he's feeling good and he can play, then he'll play. If he's not, then it's not."
--Field Level Media
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|Colorado Off vs Vegas Def|
|Vegas Off vs Colorado Def|