Avalanche host Kings with first place in West in sight

NHL Hockey

The Colorado Avalanche can lock up the top spot in the West Division with a win against the Los Angeles Kings in the regular-season finale for both teams on Thursday night in Denver.

The Avalanche (38-13-4, 80 points) beat the Kings 6-0 on Wednesday night to stay two points behind the Vegas Golden Knights, who played their final regular-season game on Wednesday.

Colorado would own the tiebreaker if they tie Vegas in points.

“We know L.A. is out of it and this doesn’t mean anything for them, but for us it means a lot,” Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog said. “We’re going to keep playing hard.”

Philipp Grubauer recorded his seventh shutout on Wednesday to tie for the league lead, but Colorado coach Jared Bednar said he plans to start Jonas Johansson in goal in the regular-season finale.

He has gone 4-1-1 in six starts this season with a .907 save percentage and 2.23 goals-against average. Johansson made 16 saves in a 3-2 win against the Kings on Saturday.

“You have to be fair to Johansson, too,” Bednar said. “He’s been doing a good job with his preparation.”

Los Angeles coach Todd McLellan was noticeably disappointed after the loss on Wednesday and was quick to pinpoint where the Kings need to improve if they hope to finish the season on a high note.

“It’s quite obvious,” he said. “I think we need an effort. We need a group of guys that actually care about finishing the season. Individual pride, and it’s not too much to ask a group to work for 60 minutes.”

Los Angeles was eliminated from the playoffs after a 3-2 loss to the visiting Avalanche on Friday, and the Kings have continued to lose, dropping their fourth straight game on Wednesday, which was their most one-sided loss of the season.

“We may not have the skill, we may not have the quality of team that our opponents (had Wednesday) night and the same group (Thursday) night, but we’ve got a lot more in us than we showed,” McLellan said. “It’s quite disappointing.”

McLellan said he plans to start Troy Grosenick in goal for the second time this season.

Grosenick made his only other start on March 10 against the Anaheim Ducks and made 33 saves in the 5-1 victory.

His only other two NHL starts came during the 2014-15 season when he was with the San Jose Sharks.

Grosenick won’t have to deal with Colorado forward Nathan MacKinnon, who leads the Avalanche with 65 points. He sustained an undisclosed injury against the Golden Knights on Monday and will miss his second straight game.

MacKinnon is expected to be ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As they showed on Wednesday, the Avalanche still have plenty of firepower, including Landeskog, who scored his 20th goal of the season, the fourth straight season he has reached that mark and eighth time in 10 NHL seasons.

“Anytime you can help on the score sheet and score goals, obviously, that’s a big part of it, and that’s how you win hockey games, but for me, I think my game has always been more than just scoring goals,” Landeskog said. “It’s about little things as well.”

Cale Makar also reached a personal milestone on Wednesday, playing in his 100th NHL game for the Avalanche. He has 93 points, sixth most by an NHL defenseman through 100 regular-season games.

–Field Level Media

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