For half of the playoff teams, the Cup dream is already over. For the other half, they’ve earned the right to continue battling for Lord Stanley’s Mug. Every squad left in the playoffs accumulated over 100 points during the regular season which suggests we are in for a doozy of a second round. My preview of the Winnipeg/Nashville series will be out tomorrow.
I also have to make note that I am a man capable of eating my words and can admit when I was wrong. I expected to watch two long, bitter, Pacific Division matchups in the first round which ultimately led to a Kings-Ducks semi-final. I was off on all counts as both the Knights and Sharks brought out the brooms and steamrolled their opponents with speed and great goaltending. Let’s dive into the series analysis.
(P1) Las Vegas Golden Knights v. (P3) San Jose Sharks
Season series: VGK 3-0-1; SJS 1-2-1.
Golden Knights Round 1 Recap: Vegas made the Kings look slower than a Hal Gill breakaway. Their relentless forecheck and ability to stretch the neutral zone was simply too much for L.A to handle. The Golden Knights won every game by only a single goal but it was quite apparent that they were the better team. They received contributions from up and down the lineup as 13 of 19 players recorded at least a point during the sweep. Marc-Andre Fleury (proud owner of the best smile in the world) was also an absolute wall in net. He followed up the best regular season of his career with a heckuva performance posting a scintillating 0.65 GAA and .977 SV% with two shutouts. In reference to the Kings, I have not seen such an inability to score since last weekend when I tried to talk to a girl at the bar – apparently, magic tricks are a bad way to pick up chicks, who knew? Vegas has been on a storybook ride this season and many pundits (including myself) figured that the playoffs would be a rude awakening for them. The Golden Knights just continued to prove everyone wrong as they executed their gameplan to perfection.
Sharks Round 1 Recap: SoCal prevailed in the battle of California as the Sharks chowed down on the Ducks. Similar to what Vegas did to L.A, San Jose skated circles around Anaheim and exposed their lumbering style of play. Offensive leaders Couture and Pavelski had dominant performances as they both tallied 5 points in the sweep. Even with great showings from those two, it was Martin Jones who was the Sharks MVP of the first round. He was a stalwart between the pipes with a 1.00 GAA and a .970 SV%. The Sharks offense (which outscored the Ducks 16-4 in the series) has really started clicking since the addition of Evander Kane at the trade deadline and they’ve done it without the services of Joe Thornton who has been out of the lineup since January 23rd. The Sharks had arguably the most impressive first-round performance of any team.
Series breakdown: This series should be a great showcase of speed and skill as both teams have a ton of it. The two goalies were the stars of their respective shows in round one but I am expecting an offensive explosion here in the conference semi-finals. Both teams have potent top lines with a wealth of scoring depth at their disposal. While this looks like a fairly even match-up the biggest advantage seems to be San Jose’s power play. They were electric with the extra man against the Ducks as they converted at a 30% clip (6/20). The Golden Knights have the worst PP of any team left in the playoffs as they only scored on 8.3% of their chances (1/12) against the Kings. I do think that T-Mobile Arena is one of the more intimidating buildings to play in as the atmosphere is absolutely insane. I have been a Golden Knights “hater” so to speak throughout the season but I am jumping on the hype train and starting to believe. As good as Martin Jones has been I think Fleury will be able to outduel him in the cage and make those momentum-swinging saves that have become habitual for the ex-Penguin. I believe this will be a back and forth series with standout performances and tons of drama but I am pushing my chips into the middle of the table and yelling “Viva Las Vegas” all the way to the conference finals.
Prediction: Golden Knights in 7.