If you’ve heard it once you’ve probably heard it a thousand times on the SinBin podcast. Teams need to win odd-numbered games to clinch a series. So far, the Golden Knights haven’t done that in the Western Conference Final. While losing the first and third contests of a seven-game series isn’t ideal, plenty of teams have actually advanced in that position.
Since the 1999-2000 season, eight teams have gone on to win a conference final or Stanley Cup final after losing Games 1 and 3 of the series. Over the past 20 years it’s been accomplished four times in the Western Conference finals, three in the Eastern Conference finals, and twice in the Stanley Cup finals. Including last season’s Cup winner the St. Louis Blues, who did it twice in their championship run. Vegas is hoping to be the ninth team, starting by winning Game 4 (something all nine teams did).
Teams That Won WCF Losing Game 1 & 3 2000: Dallas Stars- won in seven (won 4, 5, 7) 2007: Anaheim Ducks- won in six (won 4, 5, 6) 2015: Chicago Blackhawks- won in seven (won 4, 6, 7) 2019: St. Louis Blues- won in seven (won 4, 5, 6)
Pete DeBoer is no stranger to the situation his current team is in. In 2012, DeBoer’s New Jersey Devils lost the first and third games of the Eastern Conference finals and stormed back to win the series in six. Seven years later he was on the other end as the coach of the San Jose Sharks. In last year’s Western Conference final, the Blues overcame defeats in game one and three to outlast the Sharks in seven.
It’s on Pete DeBoer’s mind. It’s on Marc-Andre Fleury’s mind. It’s on Mark Stone and Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt and William Karlsson’s minds. It’s on George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon’s minds. It’s on The Creator’s mind. And it’s on every single one of you reading this’s minds.
It can’t happen again, can it?
Whether anyone wants to stare the beast directly in the eyes or not, the memory of how last season ended is inescapable for the Golden Knights as they prepare their second Game 7 in franchise history.
The first one has been woven into the fabric of the team over the past 16 months. Every decision they’ve made has been done with at least a sliver of blowing a 3-1 lead on the minds.
They hired the coach on the other bench. They revamped the penalty kill. They replaced the goalie. They added reinforcements on both offense and defense. They did it all so that these playoffs wouldn’t end the same way the last ones did.
Everyone knows what’s at stake. Even if neither Pete DeBoer nor Mark Stone would say it in the moments following Game 6.
This is a different group, different team. We’ve hit a group over there that’s feeling confident and getting great goaltending and that’s going to happen on the playoff trail and you’ve got to find a way. This is our adversity and we’ve got to stick together and come through it. -DeBoer
It’s one game. We’ve got a great team. Guys are going to go out there and bring our best and whatever happens happens. We’re confident going into tomorrow. We were confident going into Game 5 and 6. We feel like we have the team to win. -Stone
This is a mental test unlike any the young franchise has faced. The answers above are already a testament to how the Golden Knights want to handle it. They are going to try to do everything in their power to focus solely on this one game and ignore the elephant in the room. They want to play great from the moment the puck is dropped, score quickly, win the game, and come out on the other side stronger and more together than ever before.
That’s exactly how they’ll be feeling the moment they get on the ice. But if the adversity from Games 5 and 6 rear its ugly head again in Game 7, the way the Golden Knights handle the flood of emotions linked directly to their history will determine their fate even more so than hockey skill.
Normally, it’s about being the better team, and for the first 10 minutes of the game, it can, and it will if they put the puck in the net. It’s if, and probably when, the going gets tough inside of that game that this team will have to prove to the world, and to themselves, that they can overcome it. They can block out the negative memories of a terrible ending to last season and the frustrating end to the first one. They can bear down and play the way they know they can, the way that got them to 3-1 in the series, and the way that had everyone believing they were the far-and-away better team.
The crossroads is here. Either the Golden Knights win, exorcise the demons that have been haunting them since Joe Pavelski’s blood hit the SAP Center ice, and head into the Western Conference Final with the best chance they’ve ever had to win the Stanley Cup or they lose and they’ll earn a label of playoff chokers, a label that will stick with them for as long as it takes to win 16 playoff games in the same season.
It’s no secret the Golden Knights like to shoot, a lot. In Game 2 against the Vancouver Canucks, Vegas took 40 shots on net. Not only were the Golden Knights peppering shots on opposing goaltender Jacob Markstrom, but also the ankles, arms, and legs of the Canucks skaters. At the conclusion of their 5-2 loss on Tuesday, Vegas attempted 93 shots; 2 goals, 13 missed the net, 38 saved by Markstrom, and a whopping 40 blocked by 16 Canucks players.
That shows how unselfish we are. Everyone sticking together and doing the dirty work. I know it’s not fun and you see the ice packs after games. As a goalie I appreciate that. -Jacob Markstrom, VAN goaltender
The Canucks set a franchise playoff record with their 40 blocked shots in Game 2. Vancouver’s desperation mode kicked in and players paid a physical price in tying up their seven-game series 1-1 with Vegas. The Canucks were fearlessly getting in the way of shots, frustrating some of Vegas’ most lethal shooters like Max Pacioretty and Shea Theodore. Both had points in Game 2 but were victimized by Vancouver’s wall of defense.
Game 2: Shea Theodore 14 Shot Attempts 8 Shots on Net 6 Blocked Shots
Game 2: Max Pacioretty 15 Shot attempts 5 Shots on Net 7 Blocked Shots
Game 2: Alec Martinez 8 Shot Attempts 0 Shots on Net 6 Blocked Shots 2 Missed Shots
When a team is in complete control of a game like the Golden Knights were Sunday, it allows a coach to balance his players’ minutes a bit more evenly.
It was a luxury coach Pete DeBoer was given when his team held a multiple-goal lead for most of Game 1. He wasn’t forced to utilize Theodore for 28 minutes like he had in the past with Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. DeBoer also balanced his forwards, using player’s like Ryan Reaves and William Carrier more than their season average. In fact, Reaves played the third-most minutes he had all season and hit the ice more than Max Pacioretty in Game 1.
Take a look at how DeBoer was able to roll his guys out in a dominant Game 1 compared to the rest of the playoffs and regular season.
Shea Theodore Game 1: 19:40 TOI Season Average: 22:14 TOI Postseason Average: 22:57 TOI
Mark Stone Game 1: 16:00 TOI Season Average: 19:25 TOI Postseason Average: 18:44 TOI
William Karlsson Game 1: 16:21 TOI Season Average: 18:52 TOI Postseason Average: 19:13 TOI
Max Pacioretty Game 1: 14:38 TOI Season Average: 17:55 TOI Postseason Average: 16:42 TOI
Ryan Reaves Game 1: 14:50 TOI Season Average: 10:09 TOI Postseason Average: 10:04 TOI
Thanks to Antoine Roussel, Reaves was needed more than normal but it wasn’t just “to keep the flies off the honey.” Extra minutes for Reaves and Carrier equates to less postseason wear and tear on the top-six. Being that it was Game 1, DeBoer should have some well-rested stars for tonight’s matchup.
Going forward, if the Golden Knights and Canucks go deep in their second round series, or games go into overtime, DeBoer should have a bench full of fresh legs. Hopefully, the Golden Knights won’t be forced into a four or five overtime period game, but if they do, the advantage goes to the team that spread their minutes out in earlier games.
If the Golden Knights are able to perform as they did in Game 1, I’d expect DeBoer to deploy the same strategy again tonight. Any situation that has Vegas up by multiple goals, the bottom six, and the fourth line specifically, should see more ice time. But chances are the Canucks will permit that by sending Roussel on the ice to create his typical havoc.
Remember, Reilly Smith said this about Roussel and his antics.
"He's running around out there but I don't think he's distracting anyone but himself." -Smith on Roussel
Blackhawks captain Jonathon Toews uses “heavy” to describe two things. Vegas’ size, and their ability to hold the puck once they possess it. It’s no secret, the Golden Knights are big and most of their players are hard to bump off the puck. Which was apparent right from the start of the series.
Mark Stone is 6’4″, 219 pounds but also has the puck super glued on his stick. Alex Tuch is 6’4″ as well, and his skill, speed, and size make it difficult for a defender to strip the puck. Max Pacioretty is 6’2, with the lethal combination of power and a rocket shot. These are examples of being a heavy team, and playing like one.
They play a different game then the Oilers. They’re a very structured, simple team. They play a heavy game. You got to tip your hat sometimes, they play well as a squad. -Calvin de Haan, CHI Defenseman
Blackhawks defenseman Calvin de Haan used the word to describe differences between the Golden Knights and a faster, skill-based team like the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton has Connor McDavid, but what they didn’t have was the team structure and physicality Vegas has. The Golden Knights get scoring from multiple players, not just two, they defend, and rarely veer from their gameplan.
We know they’re an excellent team. They’re a heavy team, they get on the forcheck and try and hold you down… We gave them some easy ones, easy chances. They score 3-1 and during that stretch we just weren’t very good.-Jeremy Colliton, CHI coach
Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton called the Golden Knights a heavy team after three of the five games. Again, it wasn’t just their size, it was Vegas’ forecheck. When the Golden Knights push the puck with pressure they make teams feel like they’re being weighed down. All twelve forwards have that ability allowing Vegas the fortune to use all four lines.
Pete DeBoer has had four months to scour over his roster and come up with the best combination of players in every situation. The forward lines and defensive pairs mostly match what we had seen in DeBoer’s time behind the bench before the pause, but the new power play groups have seen a bit of a shakeup.
Here’s how the Golden Knights ran out their power play units in practice on Friday, an early indication of what they’ll likely use when they get to the bubble in Edmonton.
Unit 1 Stastny-Stone-Pacioretty-Marchessault-Theodore
Unit 2 Karlsson-Smith-Tuch-Martinez-Schmidt
The first unit is absolutely loaded, which leads to a key question; are these equal time units, or is the first unit going to get closer to 90 seconds of the two minutes?
Stastny at center gives a good chance to win the faceoff, then he goes to the front of the net where he’s a terrific decision-maker. Marchesseault is stationed in the high-slot where he’s deadly when he gets the puck with a bit of time. Stone and Pacioretty present two excellent scoring options in the circles and both have shown tremendous vision to move the puck. And Theodore manning the blue line and driving the entries is VGK’s best PP QB.
There’s really nothing wrong with that unit at all, in fact, it might be the best collection of players the Golden Knights have ever had on the ice at the same time. The question is what it leaves the other unit.
DeBoer is abandoning the single defenseman setup on the second unit that he’s deploying on the first and has used most of his time in Vegas. The problem, in this case, is that neither defensemen is particularly proficient on the power play. Schmidt has just 26 power play points in his career and Martinez has only reached 15 in a season once. Both are good on at the blue line and each has the ability to laser a shot from distance, but as calling them elite weapons on the power play is a bit of a stretch.
That leaves much of the load to be shouldered by the three forwards.
In years past, certain forward lines have taken the postseason by storm and helped their teams win the Stanley Cup. Affectionately known as the HBK line, Carl Hagelin (16 points), Nick Bonino (18 points) and Phill Kessel (22 points) surprisingly combined for 56 points en route to the Pittsburgh Penguins fourth championship in franchise history.
Years earlier the LA Kings were also lucky enough to have an acclaimed line of their own. Going by the nickname, That 70’s Line, Jeff Carter (25 points), Tyler Toffoli (14 points), and Tanner Pearson (12 points) caught fire in the regular season which continued into LA’s run to the cup. Each wearing a jersey number in the 70’s, the line totaled 51 points in 26 games.
Keep in mind both of these famed triplets were support lines, that massively overachieved. Without them, however, their clubs wouldn’t have been so dangerous. Good news for Golden Knights fans, Vegas had their own explosive line in last year’s postseason, and expectations are even higher in 2020.
In their seven-game series against the Sharks, Mark Stone (12 points), Max Pacioretty (11 points) and Paul Stastny (8 points) were offensively unstoppable. The trio combined for 31 points in the series loss, averaging a whopping 4.4 points per game. The veteran line made up for 44% of the Golden Knights offense against San Jose. Just silly when you think about it.
Can Vegas expect the same this postseason? And is it possible it can get better? I don’t see why not considering coach Pete DeBoer upgraded at center with William Karlsson in the middle.
All three players have the skill to excel in the postseason. Karlsson added 15 points in 20 games in 2018, and Pacioretty and Stone lived up to their billing in 2019. Combine their playoff averages together and the top line’s production will scare the bejesus out of an opponent.
We’re not going to name a captain before we go back. We will have one prior to the start of next season. -Pete DeBoer
Normally, we leave the oddsmaking up to the best sportsbook in the world, William Hill, but today, I’m going to take my shot at setting the odds on who will wear the “C” when the Golden Knights stitch it on a jersey for the first time.
Mark Stone -450
Stone is the massive betting favorite for a number of reasons. First, he’s the best player on the team and it’s not really all that close. That’s not always a prerequisite to be the captain, but it certainly helps. Next, DeBoer has lauded his leadership qualities since the moment he got to Vegas (Gallant did too when he first got Stone). He’s the right age, has an extended contract with the team, is clearly invested deeply in the team’s success as illustrated by his over-the-top celebrations, and he’s been an alternate captain during the entirety of the 2019-20 season.
If it’s anyone other than Stone, it’ll come as quite the surprise, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other worthy candidates.
Nate Schmidt +500
Most Golden Knights fans know Nate Schmidt as the loud, goofy, jokester that he comes across as in interviews, commercials, and skits, but Schmidt is, and has been, a real leader on this team for a long time. He was named the Golden Knights Player’s Association representative, he’s been an alternate captain at times during each of the first three seasons, and whenever anyone mentions the leadership group of the team he’s included.
He’s incredibly talkative on the ice, both in serious and joking manners and he’s even more talkative when you stick a microphone in his face after the games. He’s not your quintessential captain, but he certainly represents the Golden Knights.
The league blocked players from playing in the 2018 games citing an unwillingness to put the NHL season on halt for upwards of two months. Russia’s KHL took 33 days off for an Olympic break in 2018, Sweden’s SHL took 14, and leagues in Germany, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic took nearly three weeks each. The last three times NHL players have gone to the Olympics the league took a two-week break.
So, with the prospect of being without the Golden Knights for two weeks in the middle of the 2021-22 season, we’ll have to hope a few Golden Knights make Olympic rosters. Here’s a look at which ones have the best chance.
It’s hard to believe a roster with the option to select Mark Stone would be without him, but it is actually possible. He should be a lock as the best defensive winger in the NHL and nearly a point per game producer with size and an incredible stick, but the list of Canadian forwards is vast and depending on the type of team they are going for, there’s a legitimate argument to leave him off.
In the end, not selecting Stone would be a mistake Team Canada will probably not make.
William Karlsson – Sweden
Sweden is surprisingly a bit weak when it comes to the center position. By 2022, there’s going to be an argument to be made for Karlsson as the best Swedish center available. Nicklas Backstrom will be 34-years-old, so it’ll be between Karlsson and Mika Zibanejad. Karlsson will probably find himself down the lineup a bit due to his defensive prowess, but with the wingers Team Sweden boasts, every line is going to be potent.
Assuming health, Karlsson will be headed to Beijing.
In the shortened 2019-20 regular season the Golden Knights led the NHL with 34.5 shots on goal per game. In fact, since they entered the league Vegas has averaged the second-most shots per game over that three-season span.
Vegas led the entire NHL in 19-20 with 28 victories when they won the SOG battle. That’s 71% of their total wins for the season. The Golden Knights went 28-12-7 (.670), and are now 92-43-13 (.665) in franchise history when they’ve outshot other teams. Compare that to their 11-12-1 (.479) record this year when they were outshot and 35-37-9 (.488) all-time.
In 22 games as Golden Knights coach, DeBoer’s club outscored opponents 19 times, and went a stellar 13-4-2.
The bulk of the shots come mostly from the Golden Knights top-six forwards. Max Pacioretty led the team averaging 4.32 shots per game, followed by Jonathan Marchessault. Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch do their part as well, both creating several scoring chances per night. When DeBoer gets all of his weapons firing on net, opposing goaltenders have to play at their best, or else it’ll likely be a long night.
VGK Shot Leaders
Max Pacioretty: 4.32 S/GP Jonathan Marchessault: 3.56 S/GP Shea Theodore: 3.08 S/GP Mark Stone: 2.58 S/GP Reilly Smith: 2.38 S/GP Alex Tuch: 2.33 S/GP William Karlsson: 2.19 S/GP