The not-so-long national Knightmare has ended. The Vegas Golden Knights are in the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in their sixth year of existence.
Reaching the postseason is a goal for many teams. Fair or unfair, making it to the playoffs has become the expectation for the Golden Knights. That’s what happens when a franchise advances to the final round in its first season.
Since then, every Golden Knights team has been judged through the prism of whether it could get back to the Cup Final — and possibly win it all. It’s what made last year’s failure to make the playoffs so jarring, leading to many questions and the hiring of former Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy.
Those questions were answered by what Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault says is the best team the Golden Knights have had. Here’s how Vegas secured its date with the Florida Panthers and moved within four wins of the first Stanley Cup in team history.
Who’s scoring for the Golden Knights? Everyone
Let’s revisit what Marchessault said about this year’s version of the Golden Knights being the best team in their short franchise history. If anyone would know, it would be him as one of the six players left from their inaugural campaign in 2017-18. One of the reasons he made that statement presented itself in Game 3 against the Stars.
OK, more like two of the reasons. The first came when William Carrier scored to give Vegas a 3-0 lead at the end of the period, with the second coming in the second period when Alex Pietrangelo pushed it to a 4-0 lead. What made those goals from Carrier and Pietrangelo significant is that the Golden Knights have 16 players who have scored at least one goal this postseason.
That pushed them into a tie for the most of any active team in the playoffs with the Stars. Before those goals, that distinction was held by the Panthers with 15 goal scorers. That the Golden Knights and Panthers are among the two deepest teams in terms of scoring goes back to how coaches and general managers stress the need for depth scoring.
Just look at the recent Stanley Cup winners. The Colorado Avalanche had 16 players with at least one goal when they won it last year. The Tampa Bay Lightning also had 16 players who scored at least one goal in each of their back-to-back title seasons. The St. Louis Blues had 20 when they won the Cup in 2018-19, while the Washington Capitals had 18 when they won their first title in 2018-19.
Don’t call them front-runners
What the Dallas Stars learned in the Western Conference final is a lesson the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers also discovered, in that the Golden Knights are more than comfortable playing from behind.
They gave up the opening goal in Games 2 and 4 against the Jets, contests they would win by more than two goals before taking the series in five games. A similar scenario played out against the Oilers. Vegas trailed in Game 3 before scoring five unanswered goals. The Knights also came from behind in Games 5 and 6 to close out the series. Edmonton had a 2-1 first-period lead in both games.
It happened again in Game 1 of the Western Conference final, when the Stars took a 1-0 lead only to see Vegas eventually win when Brett Howden scored in overtime. In Game 2, the Stars held a 2-1 lead before Jack Eichel and Ivan Barbashev combined to create a scoring chance Marchessault converted to tie the game, then Chandler Stephenson scored the winner in overtime.
They’re having 5-on-5 success against some big names
Roope Hintz. Matthew Tkachuk. Connor McDavid. Leon Draisaitl. Evan Bouchard. They were the top five players in postseason points prior to Game 6 of the Western Conference final. Here’s something else they have in common: The Golden Knights have either played or are about to play all of them.
How the Golden Knights will fare against Tkachuk, who is second in playoff points, is one of the subplots to follow in the Cup Final. But what they have done against the majority of the points leaders at this stage is another one of those items that has yet to attract attention with the idea that it could as the playoffs go forward.
Vegas’ penalty kill is still a work in progress as its 61.4% success rate is 15th out of the 16 playoff teams. But the Golden Knights have made strides in 5-on-5 play against the majority of those aforementioned players. Edmonton’s McDavid was the most consistent of the group, with the superstar center scoring 10 points, six coming on the power play. Draisaitl had six goals in the first two games against Vegas, but did not score again for the rest of the series. He finished with one point — a 5-on-5 assist — in the last four games. Bouchard had three points in the final four games, all on the power play.
As for the Stars’ Hintz? He entered Game 6 leading the NHL with 24 points this postseason. He had three points — one goal and two assists — in Game 1 with all of those points coming in 5-on-5 play. Yet Vegas seemed to find a formula for subduing the hulking Finnish forward as he was held to zero points on five shots in Games 2 and 3, and two assists in Game 4. Thereafter? Goose eggs.
King of the (Adin) Hill
One game. That’s the amount of combined playoff experience that Laurent Brossoit and Adin Hill shared entering this postseason. Brossoit answered a few of the questions about his inexperience when he won five of his first seven starts and helped the Golden Knights reach the second round.
But questions resurfaced when Brossoit sustained an early injury in Game 3 against the Oilers in the second round. Enter Hill, who relieved Brossoit in his first career playoff outing. Hill shut out the Oilers on 24 saves the rest of the way in a 5-1 Vegas win.
All told, Hill enters the Stanley Cup Final with a 7-3 record, a 2.30 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. Aside from the 4-1 defeat in Game 4 against the Oilers, Hill’s worst performance came in Game 5 against Dallas, when he allowed four goals on 34 shots. Among goalies with at least eight games played this postseason, Hill is in the top five in GAA and save percentage.