Many skeptics said hockey would never work in the desert. Well, after their third regular season, the Vegas Golden Knights are three-for-three in postseason appearances and have won the Pacific Division twice. They will also be the only team from the Pacific to represent their division in the round-robin to get into the playoffs.
The Golden Knights come in as the third-place team, while the Pacific is led by the St. Louis Blues, followed by the Colorado Avalanche, and the final team in the round-robin is the Dallas Stars. Let’s see how they match up.
Coming in as the number-four seed, the Stars and Golden Knights split the season series, with the road team winning each game. The first matchup was at the Fortress, a 4-2 loss for the Golden Knights, while they were able to pick up the victory in Dallas, 3-2 in overtime. Their third game was canceled due to COVID-19 and the decision to jump straight into the 24-team playoff.
The big guns of each club were well represented in the season series and below are the top three scorers from the two games they played.
|Dallas Stars||Vegas Golden Knights|
|Alexander Radulov: 2 goals, 2 assists||Max Pacioretty: 1 goal, 2 assists|
|John Klingberg: 3 assists||Shea Theodore: 1 goal, 2 assists|
|Tyler Seguin: 3 assists||Mark Stone: 3 assists|
The Stars have a ton of experience up front with their forward group, averaging 29.2 years old. Their top-six can beat you with skill and size, with players like Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski, Alex Radulov, and Tyler Seguin. Between Corey Perry and Pavelski, the two have 252 Stanley Cup Playoff games and 189 points combined.
While the Stars may have more of the big-name forwards, the Golden Knights have the depth to complement all four lines. Deadline acquisition Nick Cousins had three points in seven games with his new club and a healthy Alex Tuch will be hard to contain for another team’s bottom six.
Edge: Golden Knights
On the back end, youngsters Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg lead the charge. These two can skate the puck out of stressful situations and have the vision to create an outlet pass to quickly transition the play. Defenders like Roman Polak and Jamie Oleksiak are not afraid to get in your face and play a physical brand of hockey.
While the Golden Knights don’t have as much physicality on the back end, they do have the ability to skate and create offense. Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore are two of the best skating defensemen in the league and with two-time Stanley Cup champion Alec Martinez in the lineup, he brings a ton of experience to face whatever adversity comes their way.
Ben Bishop had another fantastic season and his back up, Anton Khudobin, had a career year. They were in the top-eight in the NHL for goals-against average (GAA) and save percentage (SV%) for goalies with at least 30 games played.
Former Golden Knight Malcolm Subban was in net for both games so with Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner for this playoff, it will be a very different situation. Fleury has a career 11-5 record against the Stars, with a 2.12 GAA and .926 SV%.
The Avalanche dominated the Golden Knights in the season series, winning both games by a combined score of 13-4. (6-1 in their first contest and 7-3 in the second match-up). Like the series against the Stars, their third game was also canceled due to COVID-19.
With the two blowout games, you will see that the Avalanche padded their stats in these two contests, but the leader is someone Golden Knights fans will recognize right away.
|Colorado Avalanche||Vegas Golden Knights|
|PE Bellemare: 3 goals, 2 assists||Reilly Smith: 2 assists|
|Nathan MacKinnon: 4 assists||Four Players: 1 goal|
|Nazem Kadri: 3 goals||Five Players: 1 assist|
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare came to play against his former team, scoring five points in the two games, and a third of his goals on the season against them. While Vegas only scored four goals in the series, each came from a different player, and two of them were from fourth-line grinders, Ryan Reaves and William Carrier.
The Avalanche have one of the most explosive lines in hockey; Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog can put a team on their back and win them a series. The addition of Nazem Kadri gives them a pest of a player to distract the opposing team’s stars. And players like Andre Burakovsky, Matt Nieto, and JT Compher have speed to burn while Bellemare, Matt Calvert, and Valeri Nichushkin grind you down.
This would be a series that the Golden Knights would have to play defensively, and they have the right forwards to play that way. Mark Stone is worthy of a Selke trophy and Paul Stastny and William Karlsson are two of the best two-way centers in the league, but can MacKinnon be contained?
If their top line isn’t scary enough, the Avalanche have the potential Calder trophy winner on their back end, Cale Makar. With a good blend of young guns (Makar, Sam Girard, Ryan Graves) and veteran defenders who make carrying the puck a living hell with their booming hits, they can beat you with an up-tempo offense or grind you down.
Vegas’ defense doesn’t have has many game breakers as the Avalanche, but Theodore is one of the best mobile defensemen in today’s game. Brayden McNabb and Nick Holden are two defenders who also love the physical aspect of the game so it will be trench warfare for both clubs below the dots.
While they have two talented goalies, Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz don’t have that big-game experience. Grubauer has won a Stanley Cup but only played two games during the Washington Capitals run. Francouz has yet to taste playoff hockey and only has 36 NHL games under his belt.
Fleury is a three-time Cup champion and has faced all sorts of adversity in the playoffs. That experience, plus Lehner (a finalist for the Vezina last season), gives the Golden Knights the edge in this category.
Edge: Golden Knights
St. Louis Blues
The Golden Knights and the Blues were able to play all three of their games this season and the good guys won the season series two games to one. The Blues took the first game in St. Louis by the final of 4-2 and Vegas won the next two games in the desert, 5-4 and 6-5, both in overtime.
Their third affair was played a month before the season went on hold and it was a thriller. The Blues scored in the first minute, but Vegas responded with two goals to take the lead, only to have St. Louis score two more before the end of the first. The second period saw each team score one goal and the Golden Knights tied the game twice in the third period, 4-4 and then 5-5, to take it to overtime. Jonathan Marchessault scored on the power-play in the extra session to win the game.
Playing all three games with 26 combined goals, a few players added a lot of points to their season totals. Zach Sanford of the Blues was on fire in their final duel, scoring four of the five Blues goals.
|St. Louis Blues||Vegas Golden Knights|
|Ryan O’Reilly: 6 assists||Mark Stone: 5 assists|
|Alex Pietrangelo: 1 goal, 4 assists||Max Pacioretty: 3 goals, 1 assist|
|Zach Sanford: 4 goals||Chandler Stephenson: 1 goal, 3 assists|
The Blues will have almost the same group that won the Stanley Cup last season going into this round robin. They will be getting sniper Vladimir Tarasenko back as he has fully recovered from shoulder surgery that was performed in November. The Russian had 10 points in 10 games this season and scored 11 goals en route to a Stanley Cup in last year’s playoffs.
Going up against Ryan O’Reilly, the league’s reigning Selke trophy winner, Stone and the rest of the Golden Knights forwards will be in a chess match all game. Even though these games were high scoring during the regular season, a playoff battle will be a low scoring affair.
Alex Pietrangelo scored a career-high 16 goals this season and led all Blues skaters in time-on-ice. A one-two punch of him and Colton Parayko is tops in the league. Pietrangelo has a calming effect on his team as he slows the play down and can skate the puck out of harm’s way while Parayko is so strong in his own end and can muscle anyone off the puck.
Many have compared Theodore to Pietrangelo and those comparisons are spot on. They can both skate, pass, and shoot the puck with ease and Theodore is rounding out his defensive side of the game. The rest of the six-man group has been to a Cup Final before, either with Vegas or Los Angeles, and coach Pete DeBoer has them buying into his system and blocking more shots.
Edge: Golden Knights
Jordan Binnington roared onto the NHL scene last season after he took the reigns of the starting net with a 24-5-1 record. His extreme athleticism helped the Blues win the Cup and helped him secure his first 30-win season this year. Jake Allen had a fabulous bounce-back season, re-discovering his confidence with a .927 SV% and 2.15 GAA.
The combo of Fleury and Lehner was one of the best one-two combos in the league after the trade deadline. The team went 5-2 and Lehner was 3-0 with one shutout and starting to make fans think he could be the starter come playoff time.
Edge: Golden Knights
While this is only a round-robin and all four of these teams have clinched an official playoff spot, it is important to shake all the rust off during these three games and come out on top as the NHL will re-seed after each round. Even though games will not be played at home arenas, being the higher seed will still give you the upper hand as your team will have the final change before every puck drop.
The league is currently in Phase 2 of their four phase format and will hope to start playing games towards the end of July.
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