Let’s just cut to the chase — the Golden Knights will win their first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the San Jose Sharks.
Why? That takes a little explanation, though most of you know the edges that go to Gerard Gallant’s team.
For starters, the Knights have the superior goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury is better than either Martin Jones or Aaron Dell.
While both teams boast balance among their four lines, I believe Vegas has a little more depth and talent spread out across its four lines than San Jose.
The Knights can win on the road. They’ve played well at SAP Center in the past and no matter what clever phrases the Sharks’ marketing people come up with to get the San Jose crowd going, it’s not going to throw Vegas off its game.
With all that said, it’s not going to be an easy series. The Sharks are a good team too. They’re getting defenseman Erik Karlsson back at the right time and he’ll be a force to deal with, especially when San Jose goes on the power play.
Joe Pavelski’s going to play and he’s always been tough to contain for the Knights. And I would fully expect Timo Meier to play, bad wrist and all.
Gallant said Monday the team is as healthy as it has been all year and if you take him at his word, the Knights are going to have the flexibility to move people in and out of the lineup. Whether it’s Ryan Carpenter, Tomas Nosek or Will Carrier filling in those left-wing spots on the third and fourth lines to play with Cody Eakin and Alex Tuch or with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ryan Reaves, there’s going to be lots of maneuverability for Gallant during the series. And I haven’t even brought up Brandon Pirri or Valentin Zykov, though it’s unlikely they’ll play unless a rash of injuries suddenly materializes.
But if you’re looking for three keys to the series aside from the ones I previously mentioned, here they are:
First, can the Sharks contain William Karlsson? Wild Bill has scored 10 goals and has eight assists in 14 games against San Jose in his two years with the Knights, including the postseason. He appears to be in Jones’ head, though good luck to getting anyone to admit to it. The Sharks to date still haven’t been able to consistently take away Karlsson’s time and space. And with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault able to get him the puck, Karlsson remains a true nemesis for San Jose.
I seem to be in the right place at the right time. They seem to play me the same way. I don’t think they put any particular focus on me. -Karlsson
Maybe it’s time Peter DeBoer did change it up and try and watch Karlsson a little closer. They did manage to keep him pointless in Games 4 and 5 in last year conference semifinals so maybe they’ll figure it out.
The second key is about containment the other way. The Knights have their own demons to deal with, that being keeping Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl in check. The duo has been a constant pain for Vegas and last year in the playoffs they combined for five goals and 12 points.
Hertl’s a guy who’s big and fast and just makes plays. Couture’s just a slippery guy. he makes a lot of plays all around the ice. It’s all about how we contain them and as defensemen not let them get position to where they can use their body to shield pucks away from us. We keep those guys off the scoreboard, we have a much better chance of winning the series. –Nate Schmidt
The third variable in all this is Alex Tuch. The second-year winger will be on the third line with Eakin and whoever Gallant opts to put on the left side. He learned a lot from his first playoff experience a year ago and you can expect him to be much more comfortable in this high-intensity setting.
Tuch’s game isn’t going to change. He’ll use his speed and size to gain separation from the Sharks’ defense corps and you may recall last year he turned Marc-Edouard Vlasic into a pretzel at times as did a few of Tuch’s teammates.
The Knights’ anemic power play will be aided by Tuch’s ability to get to the front of the net, take away Jones’ line of vision and get some tip-in and rebound opportunities. And while Tuch has been struggling of late offensively with just one goal and two assists in his last 10 games, he figures to settle in playing with the hard-working Eakin. Don’t be surprised if he finds the back of the net a couple of times in this series.
The experience of last year helps a lot. I’m still going to be a little nervous to say the least, but I’m just as excited. You have to be prepared every single game. Anything can happen. one little play can change the entire course of the series. You have to make sure you’re on the right side of that little play. –Tuch
He didn’t have to say it but Tuch was referring to the save Washington’s Brayden Holtby made on him with two minutes to go in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final last year that would’ve tied the game. Instead, the Capitals held on to the win and it did change the complexion of the series.
There are other variables as well, particularly for two players who were not with their respective teams at the start of the season.
The Knights have Mark Stone in the lineup and he no doubt will be hungry as he participates in his first postseason since 2017. In his last two playoff appearances, both with Ottawa, Stone had five goals and seven assists.
The Sharks are hoping Gustav Nyquist can give them an offensive boost after the former Red Wing had six goals and 11 points in 19 games after being acquired at the trade deadline in late February. The Knights will have to account for him whenever he’s on the ice. DeBoer has Nyquist on the right side of his first line with Hertl and Evander Kane.
The special teams will bear watching, especially when San Jose is on the power play. With Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns manning the points, the Sharks are sixth in the NHL in power play percentage at 23.6%. The Knights are 25th at 16.8%.
Both teams know each other well. There’s no secrets. It’s about 20 guys competing and winning battles. –Gallant
Between Fleury in net, the ability to get to Jones and the Knights having a history of success in San Jose, there’ll be hockey late this month and into early May in Las Vegas as the Knights advance, winning a hard-fought, contentious series in six games, same as last year.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**