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Carp: Knights’ Biggest Hill May Be The First

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to 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.

Patches’ status?

To that end, we still don’t know Pacioretty’s availability for Game 1. He leads the team with 24 goals while missing the final eight games of the season.

I always worry when Pacioretty gets injured. His tend to linger and take a while to heal. I do know that Vegas is going to need him. He is the top sniper and can boost the power play. If he’s out for any length in this series, you’re asking Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, Mark Stone, and William Karlsson to pick up the slack. You’re also going to need more offense from Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo.

Let’s not forget why the Golden Knights failed to survive in the Edmonton bubble last summer. Their inability to score is what did them in.

“Full” Roster?

When GM Kelly McCrimmon met with the media Friday, he said the Knights would be able to field a full complement of players for the playoffs and the salary cap was no longer in play.

What he didn’t say was who would be on that full roster.

Ryan Reaves skated Friday and Saturday and he appears to be set to return to the lineup after missing the final 18 games. So did Tuch and, in a bit of surprise, Nosek on Saturday. But neither Pacioretty nor Martinez practiced Saturday and DeBoer said that they, along with Nosek are game-time decisions.

Nick Holden is a likely replacement for Martinez if No. 23 can’t go Sunday and Holden will be a good addition in terms of steadiness and familiarity with playoff hockey. He may not be the offensive threat Martinez can be but Holden blocks shots, can hold his own in the 1-on-1 battles, and be counted on to be on the right side of things more often than not.

Patrick Brown has also been skating and perhaps he can return to action after being on LTIR. He would be a fourth-liner, likely skating with Reaves and Will Carrier as Nic Roy will be with Tuch (assuming he’s good to go) and maybe Dylan Sikura, who is probably going to be given Black Ace status.

Nosek’s availability could be big. He’s a good faceoff man, a solid penalty killer, and was having his best season in the NHL when he got hurt April 24 vs. Anaheim. He skated with Stone and Chandler Stephenson at Saturday’s practice which was interesting. You would think he’d be reunited with Reaves and William Carrier as the fourth line. Then again, maybe he gets to move up to the top line.

So while the Knights will dress 18 skaters, who those 18 will be may not be the top 18. We’ll have to see what happens in warmups.

Mind Games

With Vegas having home ice, it does not need to win a game in Saint Paul in order to advance. The Knights merely have to hold serve inside the Fortress.

In the four years the Knights have been facing the Wild, they have only won twice at Xcel Energy Center. And both wins came in overtime or a shootout. Overall, they are 5-10-1 all-time vs. Minnesota.

Psychologically, Minnesota knows it can beat Vegas. If the Wild can get a split at T-Mobile, this series could easily tilt in Minnesota’s direction. So their attitude is to find a way to win one game, and take care of business at the X.

The Knights players nor DeBoer would never admit the Wild has their number or that Minnesota’s in their heads. But if they want to change the narrative, now’s the time.

It starts with making sure Kirill Kaprisov, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Marcus Foligno don’t dominate in the playoffs the way they have in the regular season. Kaprisov, the likely Calder Trophy winner for the NHL’s top rookie, has six goals and eight points vs. the Knights this year. Eriksson Ek, who always seems to be an immovable object in front of the net and a royal pain in the butt to deal with, has four goals and seven points against the Knights. Foligno has three goals and four assists this year vs. Vegas.

Then there’s the fan element. Capacity at the Fortress will be just under 9,000, the largest since Clark County approved allowing spectators. At the X, 4,500 fans will be allowed. While it won’t be a full house at either venue, having larger crowds should boost the home team and we know how loud things can get here so it’s worth noting.

So Who Wins?

There are a lot of unknowns with the Golden Knights as we begin the postseason and we’ve touched on all of them here. Even with all hands on deck, this is a difficult assignment.

But we know that playoff hockey is different. The best team doesn’t always win. A hot goaltender can win a series by himself. Everyone is already banged up and it’s a war of attrition going forward.

What we do know is after eight games, these teams are familiar with each other so it’s going to be hard to sneak something by either coach. The Wild have won in Vegas. They’re not going to be intimidated. The Knights are a veteran team and they were built to win now.

I’m liking what I’ve seen from Pietrangelo the last couple of weeks. After a season that was fraught with injury, illness, and adjustment, he finally appears to be comfortable playing in this system and with this group. He may ultimately be the difference-maker in Vegas’ advancing.

Talbot is a capable goalie. But I’d rather ride with Fleury or Lehner. They won that Jennings Trophy for a reason and Fleury’s wealth of playoff experience will certainly be a factor should DeBoer opt to go with him.

Prediction: The Golden Knights will prevail in six hard-fought games as their goaltending will prove to be the difference.

Other first-round matchups and predictions:

Blues vs. Avalanche: Will the Presidents Trophy jinx strike in Denver? The Avs get Nathan MacKinnon back but the Blues are a dangerous team right now. They play with no fear and they are highly motivated. They’ll have to steal at least one in Ball Arena but Jordan Binnington is capable of winning a game by himself. Blues in six.

Capitals vs. Bruins: Alex Ovechkin is back and while that is good for Washington, Boston’s goaltending appears to be better and the Perfection Line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak may be tough to shut down. Bruins in five.

Islanders vs. Penguins: The Isles’ power play is abysmal but their goaltending is superior to Pittsburgh’s. A hot Semyon Varlamov may be the difference, assuming he’s 100%. Islanders in six.

Predators vs. Hurricanes: Carolina has everything in place to make a long run and home ice will help. They don’t even need to win a game at Bridgestone Arena to move on and they’ll figure out a way to win at least one in Nashville. Hurricanes in five.

Panthers vs. Lightning: Yes, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are expected to be in the lineup for the Bolts. But Victor Hedman is less than 100% and Florida has added some nice pieces, specifically Sam Bennett. This will be a fun series. Panthers in seven.

Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs: This will get Canada diverted from its COVID-19 issues. Montreal is up-and-down, Toronto has depth and if the goaltending holds up, the Leafs should move on. If they don’t, well … let the angst commence. Maple Leafs in six.

Jets vs. Oilers: I’m expecting a high-scoring series as Winnipeg will struggle to contain Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl while Edmonton’s goaltending is always sketchy. Too bad fans aren’t being allowed in either building. The atmosphere would have been electric. Jets in six.

**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 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 sent you.**


Twitter Space Previewing Golden Knights vs Wild – May 15th, 2021




  1. Daryl

    I say you go 3-5 in your predictions

  2. Mike StG

    Steve, As always I enjoyed your piece. I also think a STL upset of the Avs is quite possible. In the last 4 weeks of the season they beat the Avs 2 of 3 and MIN 4 of 5. They look more like the cup champion team of 2 years ago than they did earlier in the season, and their physicality could present problems for COL.

    • Mike StG

      Bad news for StL: Perron entered Covid protocol today. Hopefully a false positive. Losing David would be huge. He’s been a point per game player all year.

  3. THE hockey GOD

    nice piece Mr Carp.

    If Fleury stinks up the joint this series is over in four games, five at the most.

    Also keeping a keen eye for any spike in the VID especially after this week’s surprise announcement of easing of protocols by the gooberment and our Goobernor Rasmussen Ulysses Tiberius Sissypants the trud, I mean the third.

    Note the New York Yankees and Bill Maher contacted the Vid AFTER they have been jabbed.

    something is up. Stay safe and stay alert.

  4. DOC (Go Knights Go)

    Blues over AVs. That’s a bold one, but I like it!

    I hate the Caps, so would like to see them lose.

    I think TB is still a very good team. Watch out for them.

  5. DOC (Go Knights Go)


    A Sunday morning, filled with NERVIOUS, EXCITMENT & ANTICIPATION!

    Playoff hockey, nothing better!

  6. Mike StG

    Blast from the past: Max Lagace backing up Jarry in net for Pens today against Isles. 🙂

  7. Howard

    I don’t pick number of games winners in NHL, because it’s incredibly stupid to try to predict that in hockey. Here are my winner predictions moving to round 2;

    Wild (Yes, VGK will be out here, too many injuries)
    Caps/Bruins – too close to make a call now that Vanachek is out. Before his injury, would have said Caps
    Canadians (Toronto will crap the bed again)

    • knights fan in minny

      your so bitter howie go watch cornhole on espn

    • Julie

      Hey, Howard! I know a lot goes into the picks. I don’t know picking the number of games is a good approach either. So, I checked the Magic 8 Ball. . Penguins, Bruins, Canes, Panthers, Toronto, Jets, Blues, and I have to go with Vegas. I get the injuries factor, but it’s playoffs, and PDB did the right thing this time with Fleury. So, I am working all cylinders today.. The Pens game is in OT now, so exciting!

      • Howard

        Julie – so you think the issues from last year are fixed now? They aren’t.

        People think I’m negative. No, I’m a realist/analyst.

        When a front office doesn’t address a team’s need and decides to waste money on areas THAT WERE NOT NEEDS, I expect the same results. MAF needs to start every game and play on his head for us to win, period.

        VGK lacks strong centering (means ability to power scrum in front of net) – was problem last year, is problem this year. Team could have signed a solid backup goalie. Team didn’t need to waste almost 14M per for a DMAN and a glorified back up goalie – NEEDED CENTER DEPTH.

        VGK is great on D, they are great back checkers, but weak centering, have one scorer (Stone), no snipers (Max out). Will have to rely on Wild turning it over so they can get a rush or two.

        Because VGK is great on D and hard to score on, it’s paramount Lehner is nowhere near that net to give up softies. They have a chance because they’re such good checkers, especially on the backcheck. but they need to scrap blue line shots and constantly shoot corners and try to crash net.

        • Julie

          Hi, no I don’t think everything is fixed. Still room for those issues to rear their ugly heads. I’m not trying to gloss over anything, I just hope the team will make adjustments they need to give their team the best chance this year. I don’t recall PDB doing that last playoffs. Maybe Foley called him and said to figure it the F— out this time.

          • Howard

            Ya, shoot the corners, less blueline shots, get guys in front of net and scrum.

        • Daryl

          VGK doesn’t have the players to cause scrums in front of the net. I don’t think VGK and PDB have done a good job with their offensive scheme. I like screens but VGK is too small in the crease and get’s pushed around. Angle shots and rebounds are nice and need to work more on that then straight ahead shots from out front while trying to screen the goalie

  8. Bent Hermit

    The Wild like to match the Krill line against the VGK 2nd line. This is the matchup to watch and could decide the series. VGK might have to swap Marchy for Janmark especially if Patches is out. This gives Stone a sharpshooter and the 2nd gets a player that is better defensively and is better in front of the net.

  9. I am sorry… Pieceofshittrangelo is the biggest bomb! Ee are stuck with this over paid idiot… The reason our power play sucks is because of him and lost Theodore… They are lost and have absolutely NO HOCKEY SENSE! BOTH OVER PAID AND CLUELESS!

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