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Golden Knights, Flyers secure NHL's top seeds

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Published in Hockey
Sunday, 09 August 2020 01:49

With a shootout looming to determine the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and time ticking away, Alex Tuch scored 4:44 into overtime as the Vegas Golden Knights outlasted the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 to win the round-robin tournament in Edmonton on Saturday.

The Golden Knights, who made a coaching change with the team stuck at No. 7 in the West in January, bringing in Peter DeBoer to replace Gerard Gallant, went 3-0 in the round robin, defeating Dallas and St. Louis before the victory over Colorado. Vegas secured a first-round matchup with the No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks, a team that finished the regular season 12th in the West before upsetting Edmonton in the qualifying round.

The Philadelphia Flyers also have a new coach this season, though unlike DeBoer, Alain Vigneault has been with the club since the offseason. He led the Flyers to the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference round robin, and like Vegas, Philadelphia posted a 3-0 mark to also secure the No. 1 seed.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel scored twice, and Carter Hart made 23 saves as the surprising Flyers -- out of the playoffs last season -- defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1 in Toronto on Saturday night to finish the round robin undefeated, earning a first-round series with the Montreal Canadiens, another surprising No. 8 seed who outlasted Pittsburgh in the qualifying round.

"We've played really hard," Hart said in his postgame interview on NBC. "It's always tough to have a break like that -- three or four months -- but we've come back hard, and all four lines are rolling."

The Flyers outscored the Bruins, Capitals and Lightning 11-3 in the Eastern Conference round robin.

"There's a lot of unexpected with what's going on in the world, but we had a chance to come back, and we were all eager to come back," Hart said. "We got a lot of work in, and it's showing now."

Tampa Bay, last season's No. 1 seed in the East, will play either Columbus or Toronto in the first round. The Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs will play a deciding Game 5 on Sunday to conclude the qualifying round.

Against Philadelphia, the Lightning lost star defenseman Victor Hedman after he appeared to twist his right ankle while going down untouched midway through the first period. And they are already without captain Steven Stamkos indefinitely due to a leg injury.

Vegas, which advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018, received two goals from Jonathan Marchessault, including one on a penalty shot, as well as another tally from Nicolas Roy, as the Knights completed their undefeated tournament.

"We came here to take care of every challenge ahead of us. We did a good job," Marchessault said. "We wanted the first seed after the round robin, and we got it done. So I think it's pretty positive. We're really happy where our game is at as a team."

Goaltender Robin Lehner made 32 saves en route to the win, setting up a unique series against the Blackhawks, who traded Lehner to Vegas before the sport paused in March. Several Blackhawks, a day after eliminating the Oilers in their home rink, watched the Knights' victory from the stands.

Tuch scored the winner on a shot over the shoulder of Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer. The Avalanche tied the game with 1:02 left in regulation when J.T. Compher poked in the puck. It was Tuch's third goal in round-robin play.

"Feels pretty good," Tuch said. "Honestly, it was a big goal to get the first seed. I didn't care who scored it as long as we did."

Joonas Donskoi and Nathan MacKinnon scored for the Avalanche. Grubauer was in net over Pavel Francouz, who stopped 27 shots in a shutout win over Dallas on Wednesday. The veteran Grubauer was solid in saving 22 shots.

With the loss, Colorado finished second in the round robin, and it will take on Arizona in the first round.

"We're talking like we lost and that our game was poor. I don't see it that way. I don't see it that way at all," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. "If we were expecting this thing to be easy, we're in the wrong tournament. This is going to be work. That's a real good hockey team. I'm not really that disappointed."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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