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Carp: Adversity Greets Golden Knights In Canada

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

By and large, a trip to Canada is a pleasant experience. But there was nothing pleasant about the start to the Golden Knights’ visit to Montreal.

With a lot of issues for both the Knights, who are playing without Chandler Stephenson, their top center, and the Canadiens, who had to play without their head coach after Dominique Ducharme found himself testing positive for COVID-19, it came down to who handled their adversity better in Game 3. Ultimately, it was Montreal that was able to get the better of things Friday, winning 3-2 in overtime and taking a 2-1 series lead in the Stanley Cup semifinals.

We all know what happened so there’s no point in rehashing Marc-Andre Fleury’s gaffe playing the puck that allowed the Canadiens to tie it late in regulation. Or all the missed opportunities to get more than a couple past Carey Price in the Habs’ net.

The question is: How does Vegas respond today in Game 4?

Does the Knights’ power play, which has been woefully anemic, suddenly find new life? Do Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty rediscover their offense, even without Stephenson?

That’s a lot to digest and not much time to do so. Because even if the Knights find all the right answers today, all it does is get them back to square one with the Canadiens. It becomes a best-of-three series with two of the three in the Fortress, where the Habs took Game 2 Wednesday to tie the series.

And if Montreal prevails today? Does this team have the wherewithal to win three straight?

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with the adjustments and improvements which need to be made.

First, it appears there will be a change in goal. Robin Lehner was first off the ice at the morning skate and was practicing in the “starter’s net” so that’s obviously huge.

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Carp: Underdogs No More

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

What on earth is Peter DeBoer going to do?

He will not be able to play the “Us Against The World Underdog Card” as his Golden Knights are a prohibitive 5-to-1 favorite to win their Stanley Cup semifinal series against Montreal, which begins Monday night at the Fortress. I’m guessing he makes a 180-degree turn and tells anyone who’ll listen just how dangerous the Canadiens are, how the Golden Knights are going to have to raise their game another notch or two, how they’re only halfway to their ultimate objective and yada, yada, yada.

Please. Spare me.

DeBoer happens to be coaching a really, really good hockey team, one that’s been built for this very moment. The $8.8 million defenseman is earning his pay (finally!). The future Hall of Fame goaltender is on top of his game. All four lines are scoring. The defensemen are blocking shots, contributing offensively, and doing their jobs.

So let Dominique Ducharme do the talking and embrace the underdog role. He has earned it. PDB just needs to coach his team and get to the Cup Final and be ready to match wits with one of two excellent coaches — either the Lightning’s Jon Cooper or the Islanders’ Barry Trotz, the latter who knows how to beat the Knights when the big money is on the line.

There. I’ve vented.

Now, on to the semis and how the Knights will get this done.

If you thought the Colorado series would come down to goaltending (it ultimately did), the Habs-Knights matchup is all about the goalies. Carey Price has rediscovered his game and he is capable of singlehandedly winning this series. But Marc-Andre Fleury has been every bit as good, perhaps better. He will be highly motivated to beat the team he grew up rooting for as a kid.

Fleury hinted his legs were feeling it after the Knights eliminated the Avalanche Thursday. Game 1 isn’t until Monday. He’ll have enough time to rest, recover and prepare. I just don’t see Robin Lehner in the Vegas net unless Fleury is hurt.

Speaking of injuries, are you paying attention to the roster? The Knights are nearly at full strength. Peyton Krebs, who suffered a broken jaw late in the regular season, began skating last week and he might be available during this series if needed. Tomas Nosek’s availability is a bit more sketchy but GM Kelly McCrimmon said Friday Nosek is making good progress and may be ready to come back soon.

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Carp: Golden Knights Still Have Work To Do

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

I’m guessing if you were one of the 17,504 who were inside the Fortress Friday, you didn’t walk out of the building. More than likely, you floated your way out the doors and into the hot Las Vegas night.

You had the right to feel euphoric. You had just witnessed a great hockey game, one that may ultimately have saved your team’s season. It was played amid a loud, frenetic atmosphere, fiercely contested from both sides and exhilarating in the outcome.

But by winning Game 3, 3-2, the Golden Knights merely closed the gap between themselves and the Colorado Avalanche. They’re not out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot. However, there’s reason for optimism heading into today’s Game 4 as the Knights look to even the series and turn it into a best-of-three event.

The biggest cause for optimism? The team’s best players are finally showing up. Max Pacioretty, the team’s leading goal scorer during the regular season, appears to be getting comfortable again as he redirected the game-winner past Philipp Grubauer, who finally showed a human side to himself after being nearly impenetrable the first two games.

Jonathan Marchessault, another would-be goal scorer who has shown a flair for getting big goals, got the game tied with a little bit of puck luck after banking one off Grubauer and in to tie the game.

Then, there’s Marc-Andre Fleury, who once again is proving to be money in the postseason. He closed the door on the Avs down the stretch and made sure there’s going to be a Game 5 in Denver come Tuesday. It’s his net and there will be no controversy going forward.

I have no idea what’s going on with Robin Lehner. But his lack of availability is concerning, even if he never gets back in goal. The $12 million experiment was predicated on having two No. 1 goalies. That experiment appears to have run its course and Fleury will be tasked with taking his team as far as he can.

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Carp: The Series Everyone Wanted Is Here, Here’s Why VGK Will Win It

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

You know the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for?” Normally, there would be a lot of concern with the Golden Knights facing the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s hockey’s “Clash of the Titans” and someone is going to be bitterly disappointed when all is said and done.

But if you’re a true hockey fan, this is the matchup you want to see. Two of the NHL’s best, going head-to-head, with the winner moving on to the semifinals and a big hurdle in the quest for the Cup having been cleared.

I know I’m looking forward to Knights-Avs. The eight games they played during the regular season were fun to watch. And even though Colorado won the season series (4-3-1) it doesn’t mean the Knights are at a distinct disadvantage. Yes, they are the betting underdog in this series for only the second time in their brief four-year history (they were underdogs to Winnipeg in the 2018 Western Conference Finals), but that is something the players and coach Peter DeBoer will no doubt embrace, if for no other reason but to take some of the pressure off themselves.

They can do whatever psychological gymnastics they want. But they are good enough to win this series and move on. Here’s why:

Max is back

The return of Max Pacioretty to the lineup in Friday’s Game 7 vs. the Wild gave the entire team an emotional lift. He hadn’t played since May 1st and he admitted he had encountered some setbacks along the way in trying to get back on the ice.

But he made it back. He also scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal to clinch the opening round over the Wild and it was a Willis Reed moment for the franchise.

Who’s Willis Reed you ask? He was the captain of the New York Knicks who injured his hip in Game 5 of the 1970 NBA Finals vs. the Lakers. He missed Game 6, which the Knicks lost, but limped out onto the court just prior to Game 7. He hit his first two shots, the Knicks rode an emotional wave to crush the Lakers and win the NBA title.

Having Pacioretty back does a couple of things. First, it restores order to the lines. With him back skating with Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson, it allows Alex Tuch to return to play with Nicolas Roy and Mattias Janmark, making the third line much stronger.

Second, it gives DeBoer a powerful line of his own to match Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen. It also forces Avs coach Jared Bednar to match up against the Stephenson line.

In the eight games vs. Colorado, Vegas scored a total of 18 goals. Of those 18, Pacioretty had six of them plus two assists while playing in seven of the eight meetings. So yeah, he’s kinda important in a series with the Avalanche.

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Carp: Stick Tap To The Coach (And His Staff)

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

I’m not sure how much Peter DeBoer is liked by the Golden Knights’ fan base. Maybe he’s revered. Perhaps he’s reviled.

I don’t know if his players love playing for him, hate him, or a little bit of both.

Here’s what I do know: The Golden Knights would not be winning their opening-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series against Minnesota if he were not on the bench.

It appears virtually every button DeBoer has pushed has been the right one. And even when he miscalculates, as he did putting Tomas Nosek on the first line in Game 1, he quickly adjusted, moving Nosek down and playing Alex Tuch with Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson.

Think about what has transpired over the first four games and the coach whose team owns a 3-1 lead and can close out the series Monday at the Fortress.

DeBoer’s biggest decision was who to play in goal vs. the Wild. Yes, Marc-Andre Fleury seemed like a no-brainer given how well he had been playing. But the rotation with Robin Lehner was working and while DeBoer might have been criticized had he decided to go with Lehner in Game 1, he opted for Fleury. The 36-year-old veteran, who owns three Cup rings, justified his coach’s faith by playing some outstanding hockey. It’s his net and at this point, it’s going to take an injury to Fleury for Lehner to see the ice.

Then there were the challenges in Games 3 and 4. DeBoer could have ignored video coach Dave Rogowski and Mike Rosati, the goaltending coach, who DeBoer said team up to tell him whether or not to challenge. But he listened to them both times and he is 2-for-2.

In Game 3, the Knights were already trailing 2-0 and had the goal stood, chasing a 3-0 game is vastly different. Maybe DeBoer opts to yank Fleury. Instead, the goal is disallowed, Mark Stone scores huge goal in the 2nd period, the Wild unravel at the seams and the Knights score five unanswered and win Game 3, 5-2.

Saturday, Marcus Foligno appeared to encroach Fleury’s space in the crease. But you never know how they’ll rule up in Toronto when the challenges are reviewed. But DeBoer challenged, the goal was disallowed, the Knights’ 1-0 lead stood and Minnesota really never got back in it.

DeBoer also made some key personnel decisions. He opted to sit Nic Hague in Game 3 and use veteran Nick Holden. Holden was strong defensively and had a pair of assists. Saturday, Brayden McNabb was unavailable, so Hague was back in and Holden skated with Shea Theodore, knowing his principal assignment was to make sure Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota’s sensation rookie, didn’t get untracked. In four games so far, Kaprizov has just one assist.

Holden helped keep Kaprizov off the scoresheet in Game 4 and Hague, reunited with Zach Whitecloud, had a strong game.

With Nosek injured, DeBoer could have played Cody Glass or Dylan Sikura. Instead, he put Patrick Brown, who had missed eight weeks with a torn hamstring, in the lineup. Brown, playing with Ryan Reaves and William Carrier, scored a goal, won faceoffs, played responsibly in his own end, and forechecked effectively.

Notice a pattern?

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Carp: Knights’ Biggest Hill May Be The First

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

There’s no sense in reliving the past. What’s done is done. The $12 million goaltender experiment worked in the regular season. The salary cap gymnastics? Not so much.

Thus, the Golden Knights have a tough first-round matchup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Minnesota Wild the opponent. We all know the Wild’s success over Vegas, going back to Year One, particularly in Saint Paul. But playoff hockey is different and the Golden Knights are the better team. It’s now up to them to prove it.

But this will be a challenge, especially if two of Vegas’ key pieces — Max Pacioretty and Alec Martinez — are missing. Both will be needed to help defeat Minnesota and if they are out for any additional length of time, it’s going to make the task that much tougher.

Concerns? Yeah, I’ve got a few.

Who’s in net?

Pete DeBoer still hasn’t said who starts Game 1 Sunday. He also hasn’t said if he plans to maintain the regular-season rotation though he hinted at doing just that.

We’ve been through this discussion several times. My guess is Marc-Andre Fleury has earned the right to start Sunday. If he plays well and the Knights win, perhaps he remains in goal for Game 2 Tuesday. If he’s so-so or terrible, in goes Robin Lehner.

The Knights beat the Wild the last time they played and Fleury was the goalie in the 3-2 overtime win in Saint Paul on May 5. Lehner played in two of the eight games vs. Minnesota and was 0-1-1.

I can tell you this. We don’t win the Jennings Trophy, we don’t have the record we have without having the best tandem in the league. What rolls out to in the playoffs, I’m not going to tip my hand. And to be honest with you, I’m not even sure I know. -Pete DeBoer

Perhaps DeBoer maintains the rotation, which means Lehner starts Game 1. But right now, it remains a guessing game. We do know who is in the Minnesota net. That would be Cam Talbot, who has a 2.46 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in starting 23 career playoff games. It’ll be up to the Knights to make him work to beat them.

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Carp: The Case For Stone’s Selke

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

In their brief existence, the Golden Knights have won four individual NHL awards — all in 2018: William Karlsson took the Lady Byng, Deryk Engelland the Mark Messier Leadership Award, Gerard Gallant the Jack Adams, and George McPhee the General Manager of Year.

Will Mark Stone’s name be added to the list this summer?

The Captain is worthy of the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which goes to the top defensive forward, and he should be in the conversation for the Hart Trophy which goes to the league’s MVP.

The latter might be more problematic, given Edmonton’s Connor McDavid likely has a lock on that. The Hart is supposed to be for “most valuable to his team” and it’s hard to argue against McDavid. But Stone has certainly been Vegas’ MVP this season. Yes, Max Pacioretty has more goals. Yes, Marc-Andre Fleury has been sensational in net. But when you look at the totality of it, who has done more for this team than Stone?

He leads the team in scoring and is tied for ninth in the league with 57 points. He is an excellent penalty killer. He uses that long stick to break up opposing scoring opportunities before they ever manifest themselves. He blocks shots and plays the body in his own end . He’s a +26, third in the NHL among forwards. In other words, Stone checks all the Selke boxes.

Yet, for all the good things he has done for the Golden Knights, it might not get recognized around the league when it comes to the Selke. The good folks in Canada who vote for this may not be paying close enough attention to what’s going on here, though I have faith in my Professional Hockey Writers Association brethren that they are in tune with what’s happening beyond the North Division.

That said, McDavid’s Edmonton sidekick, Leon Draisaitl, is going to get a lot of consideration, as will Florida’s Aleksander Barsov and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron (a four-time Selke winner), and Brad Marchand. Some might try and make a case for Ryan O’Reilly in St. Louis, Joel Erikkson-Ek in Minnesota, and Martin Necas in Carolina.

But here’s why Stone should be strongly considered, if not the outright favorite, for the Selke. He’s been making great plays all season. But in Wednesday’s 5-2 win over the Avalanche, a game everyone can agree was huge for both teams, Stone delivered.

Watch him here as he sets up Pacioretty for the fourth goal early in the third period:

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Carp: An Appreciation Of Greatness

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

It has been an interesting week to say the least for the Golden Knights — both on and off the ice.

There was the celebration of a rival’s personal accomplishment. There was the clinching of a fourth consecutive playoff spot. There was an underwhelming response by the NHL and none from the team in the wake of the conviction of the police officer who murdered an unarmed African-American. And at the top of the list, a lengthy impromptu vent by a player to the league’s protocols as it pertains to COVID-19 that wound up going national.

Oh, and the team won a franchise-record ninth straight game Saturday.

But lost in all of that is the franchise’s most popular player inched closer to another milestone. And unless something crazy happens, we will see the spotlight once again shine upon Marc-Andre Fleury as he looks to continue his climb up the NHL’s all-time goaltender wins ladder.

Fleury currently has 487 wins and sits in fourth place on the career victories list. Roberto Luongo, who has 489 Ws and is No. 3, is in his sights. Fleury is scheduled to play Wednesday against Colorado, in what is a huge game for obvious reasons, and again Saturday at Arizona. He can tie Luongo with a pair of wins. That would leave only Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur ahead of Fleury — the two goalies he idolized as a kid growing up in Sorel, Quebec. Brodeur has 691 wins. It’s unlikely Fleury, or anyone else for that matter, catches him.

Roy? He has 551 victories. That number is within reach for Fleury if he can continue to play for a couple more years and have success.

The Knights have nine games left in this truncated 56-game season. Fleury will likely start in four of them, perhaps more if Peter DeBoer decides to use him in additional games. If he wins three of the four, he’ll have 490 going into next season, the final year of his VGK contract. He’ll be 37 on Nov. 28. But with Fleury, age is truly just a number. He is having one of the best seasons of his career this year and barring an unforeseen drop-off in performance, he can work his way to closing the gap between himself and Roy in half.

What would make the chase problematic for Fleury would be if the Knights chose not to resign him after 2022 and he went to a team which didn’t perform as well. He’d be 38 by then and who knows where his skill set will be at that point.

Right now, he’s in a good place physically, mentally, and spiritually. The joy has returned and when Fleury is having fun, he is tough to beat.

So we’re going to have to see what develops in the coming months. But this much we know: He’s had a remarkable career to date. He’s a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Fame selection. He owns three Stanley Cup rings and maybe he gets a fourth this year. He has been the face of the Golden Knights franchise from the day the team took him in the NHL expansion draft in June 2017. I will always remember the roar inside the Fortress when it was announced the team selected him and that love for Fleury has never abated.

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Carp: A Playoff Insurance Policy

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

As the games in the regular season schedule dwindle to a precious few, we need to look ahead to the playoffs and how the Golden Knights stack up.

As of this morning, the Knights are still chasing Colorado for the top spot in the West Division. Can they overtake the Avalanche? There’s two games remaining vs. the Avs, both at the Fortress, so a sweep of the pair would certainly help Vegas’ chances.

But if the Knights finish second, it likely means a date with Minnesota in the first round and we all know the challenges that lie within playing the Wild. And even if the Knights overtake Colorado and win the division, it probably means playing an improved St. Louis team which would not be an easy out.

So, what does a playoff roster look like?

Assuming everyone stays healthy, the lineup is pretty much set:

Pacioretty-Stephenson-Stone
Smith-Karlsson-Marchessault
Nosek-Janmark-Tuch
Carrier-Roy-Reaves

Pietrangelo-McNabb
Theodore-Martinez
Whitecloud-Hague

Lehner/Fleury

You could see Roy move up to the third line and Nosek return to center the fourth line. But otherwise, that’s what we can likely expect Pete DeBoer to do with his lineup. However, there’s a wild card in all of this.

The Knights believe they have some offense stashed away in the event things go cold as they did in the Edmonton bubble last summer, someone who could generate chances and put the puck in the net, or, at the very least, set up his teammates for success.

I’m referring to Peyton Krebs.

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Carp: Fools Gold? Or Have The Top Six Woken Up In Time?

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

When the week began, my original inclination was to draw a conclusion that the Golden Knights problem with their offense isn’t with their bottom six, but rather their top six.

Actually, make that top seven as I’ll include Alex Tuch in the conversation.

Then the Knights scored six goals Monday against St. Louis. Problem solved, right?

Not exactly.

The top guns went back into cold storage Wednesday in the 3-1 loss to the Blues. So the angle was back in play.

Or was it?

Friday, the Knights scored a season-high seven goals in defeating Arizona, 7-4. Reilly Smith got two of them. Jonathan Marchessault, Chandler Stephenson, and Max Pacioretty also scored. The line of Smith, Marchessault, and William Karlsson combined for six points.

I left The Fortress a bit confused. Was what I had witnessed an actual wake-up by Smith and the guys? Or was it a tease and we’ll see them go back into hibernation?

I’m still not sure what to believe. Smith has always been a streaky scorer. He’ll be in deep freeze for weeks. Suddenly, he’ll be wielding a hot stick and he’ll be scoring with regularity. However, I’ve learned to never give up on him. He’s too good a competitor to stay off the scoresheet forever. And when Marchessault, that little ball of hate, gets his juices flowing, that line becomes dangerous once again.

That brings us to today’s rematch with the Coyotes and what may be the most important 24 hours of the season so far. If you read ‘Yotes coach Rick Tocchet’s postgame comments Friday, you know he was a very unhappy boss. He basically called his team out for allowing the Knights to jump them and build a 5-0 lead. Yes, his team sort of responded with a bit of push in the third period, but it wasn’t close to being enough to overcome the hole they had dug for themselves.

I will be absolutely shocked if the ‘Yotes don’t come out angry and flying this afternoon, looking to make a statement. They are fighting for their playoff lives as they are currently one point behind the Blues for the fourth and final West Division playoff berth and they figure to play with a great amount of desperation.

My concern is will the Knights match that desperation? Will they play with jump, with purpose, and with intensity? Will they not hang Marc-Andre Fleury out to dry against Phil Kessel, Nick Schmaltz, Clayton Keller, and Connor Garland, Arizona’s primary weapons?

Most important, will the top six build off Friday’s performance and will Tuch, who last scored a goal March 13 and has one tally in his last 17 contests, find the back of the net?

There’s another facet to today’s game. The NHL trade deadline is 24 hours away. Kelly McCrimmon has publicly stated he doesn’t expect the team to make a big splash by noon Monday. But Colorado got better Saturday in upgrading its goaltending with the acquisition of Devan Dubnyk from San Jose and Joe Sakic may not be done dealing. The Avalanche currently reside atop the West Division with a four-point lead on the Knights, who have a game in hand on Colorado. The two teams have two more meetings remaining later this month — both in Las Vegas.

The Knights had organizational meetings in town earlier this week to explore all their options. Remember, they’re up against the salary cap so they’re going to have to get real creative if they want to swing a major deal. Even a secondary trade may require some heavy lifting, depending on who is involved.

If I’m GMKM, I’m watching today’s match with more than the usual interest. It’s up to him, and Prez George, to determine if there’s enough offense to beat Colorado and/or Minnesota, then be able to score often enough to win the Stanley Cup.

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