The Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights are already assured of a top-four Western Conference seed heading into their opening round-robin game on Monday afternoon at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
But don't expect either team to approach the contest as a tune-up for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
BothVegas coach Peter DeBoer and Dallas coach Rick Bowness made it clear that they regard their three round-robin games, which also include meetings with defending Stanley Cup champ St. Louis and Colorado, with a playoff mentality even though it isn't win-or-go-home like the qualifying series.
"To us, the playoffs started today," Bowness told reporters following practice on Saturday. "This round-robin, we have an opportunity to go from fourth to first seed. So we want to approach this as it is the playoffs.
"The urgency and the intensity of the playoffs has started. These round-robin games are going to be tough. Those are three excellent hockey clubs and they deserve to be ahead of us in the standings, and it's up to us to prove that we can beat them, and we can move up in the seeding. We want playoff intensity right away."
"Obviously it counts now," DeBoer said. "These round-robin games, obviously, you want the easiest path that you can get (in the Stanley Cup playoffs), and the easiest path would be getting the first seed."
Before the pandemic pause, the two teams played twice, both in Dallas, with each team coming away with a victory. The Stars won the first one on Nov. 25, 4-2, behind a pair of power-play goals by Alexander Radulov while the Golden Knights won the second one, 3-2, in overtime on Dec. 13 on a goal by Max Pacioretty.
"We've had some tough games with them in the past, really physical games, and we expect that kind of game Monday afternoon," Bowness said.
Pacioretty, who leads the Golden Knights in goals (32) and points (66), didn't make the trip to Edmonton with an undisclosed injury.
"Has not joined us yet," DeBoer said. "Progressing well. Should be (here) soon. That's all I can tell you."
Dallas played without top-line center Tyler Sequin (unfit to play) in a 2-0 exhibition loss to Nashville on Thursday and lost forward Andrew Cogliano (undisclosed) in the first period. Both Sequin, who leads the team in assists (33) and has scored 50 points, and Cogliano were expected to be "full-go" in practice Sunday, according to Bowness.
Vegas cruised to a 4-1 exhibition victory over Arizona on Thursday. Forward Reilly Smith led the way with both a short-handed goal and a power play goal in the first period while Nick Cousins had a goal and two assists. Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 22 saves.
DeBoer plans to alternate Fleury and Robin Lehner in goal heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs so Lehner is expected to get the nod on Monday.
"I think we have two starting goalies, and we're going to need both guys if we go as deep as we want to go, and feel we can go," DeBoer said. "Both guys are going to play here."
DeBoer, who has coached both the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks to the Stanley Cup Finals, believes the Golden Knights have what it takes to make a long run in the playoffs.
"I like our mindset," DeBoer said. "I like our depth. I like our game. I would put it up against anybody."
--Field Level Media