Stanley Cup Final Preview: Vegas Golden Knights

Vegas Golden Knights
(Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

The Stanley Cup Final is set to kick off in two days from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. It will be just the third time since 2005 the Stanley Cup Final will feature two teams that have never won the Stanley Cup, most recently in 2018 when, coincidentally, the Vegas Golden Knights hosted a former Southeast Division team: the Washington Capitals.

The aforementioned Golden Knights are in their second Stanley Cup Final in just their sixth season of existence. By making it to the Western Conference Final, they have also reached the conference final (or equivalent) in four of their first six seasons of existence. This is a tale of one of the greatest success stories in North American sports tasked with defeating another great North American sports success story.

How they got here

After posting their best season in franchise history (standings points-wise) with 111 points, the Golden Knights locked down the first seed in the Western Conference. They were paired up with Winnipeg, a team that was a far cry from the juggernaut they faced in the 2018 Western Conference Final. Shockingly, though, Winnipeg took the first game and gained home-ice advantage for the time. Vegas won game two to level the series and had a 4-1 lead in game three. Winnipeg had other plans. They charged back from three goals down to tie it and force overtime. After a stalemate in the first overtime, a Winnipeg giveaway in double overtime was buried by Michael Amadio.

From this point on, Vegas did not trail in a series in their run to the Stanley Cup Final. They were able to stave off the nearly unstoppable Edmonton Oilers offense in six games, led by Leon Draisaitl who still leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs in goals scored, and let the Dallas Stars make things interesting before silencing them in six games.

Who are the players that have gotten them there? Contrary to how the team has spent its money in the past few seasons, it’s been a team effort. William Karlsson leads the way in the goal department with 10, rekindling his goal-scoring prowess from 2018. Jack Eichel is performing as expected for Vegas, leading them with 18 points (6-12-18). Trade deadline acquisition Ivan Barbashev has filled in just fine on the top line. Laurent Brossoit got injured in the Oilers series, but Adin Hill has not only picked up the slack but boasts a .937 save percentage in 11 games.

Several other players have chipped in for the Golden Knights. Jonathan Marchessault is playing at a point-per-game rate. Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson have scored 15 and 14 points in all 17 playoff games of this playoff run, respectively. All four centers are playing above half a point per game. Everyone is pitching in for Vegas.

What will win them the Cup?

This Vegas team has a dangerous superpower: the ability to roll all four lines on a team. In the playoffs, especially in overtime, teams often only play their top nine forwards and top four defensemen. Vegas does not do that. The fourth line of Will Carrier, Nicolas Roy, and Keegan Kolesar has an expected goals-for percentage (xGF%) of 66.7% in 42 minutes played, per Moneypuck. The top line of Barbashev, Stephenson, and Stone has an xGF% of 60.5% in 155 minutes played.

This team can score with all four lines, and goals will be at a premium in this series. Adin Hill has stopped almost everything in sight and will be a nightmare for the Florida Panthers, but conversely…

What will lose them the series?

Sergei Bobrovsky has put together a postseason for the ages. This postseason has been one of few bright spots for Bobrovsky in his time in Sunrise. Bobrovsky has posted a save percentage of .935 since taking the starting spot from Alex Lyon in the Boston series. Bobrovsky has stared down the dynamic offenses of Boston and Toronto and outdueled Carolina’s Frederik Andersen. If Bobrovsky stays sharp, he will continue to steal games for his Panthers.

The Panthers’ forward core has awoken at the right time as well, but one player stands out. If a skater is going to win the Conn Smythe, it will be Matthew Tkachuk. He’s notched 21 points, nine of them goals, in 16 games. He has also scored most of the clutch goals for Florida in this run.

Do they win the series?

I believe they can. Head Coach Bruce Cassidy has proved the Boston Bruins wrong in firing him and compared to previous years, this Vegas team has taken little for granted. They do not intend to repeat history and lose to the 16th-best team deep into the playoffs. They have the firepower, cohesion, and goaltending to match up and even surpass this white-hot Panthers team. It will be a tough task, but this might just be Vegas’ year.

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