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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.

Shea Wakes Up

Everyone was worried about Shea Theodore’s lack of offense through the first six games of the Minnesota series. But in Game 7, Theodore had a pair of assists and looked like his old self activating into the attack. Maybe this will get him going.

Theodore does for the Knights what Cale Makar does for the Avalanche. He can create offense when he has possession of the puck and make plays that lead to scoring chances.

Theodore should be more effective in this series as he shouldn’t encounter the kind of traffic Minnesota set up in the neutral zone. He likely will get better looks and if nothing else, that wrist shot of his may create rebound opportunities for the Vegas forwards, assuming they can get to the front of the Avs’ net.

No Kadri

Nazem Kadri is appealing his eight-game suspension from the opening round when he broadsided St. Louis’ Justin Faulk with a targeted hit to Faulk’s head. But there’s the likelihood the Knights don’t see Kadri on the ice and that’s huge in this series.

When he’s not playing like a cementhead, Kadri is a skilled, tough center to play against. The 30-year-old veteran had 11 goals and 21 assists this season and he takes a lot of pressure off MacKinnon’s line when he’s contributing offensively. The Avs really don’t have anyone with the skills to replace those goals and points and it will make life easier for Vegas to not have to deal with him.

Kadri has served two of the eight games and is waiting for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to rule on his appeal. If the suspension stays as is, the only way the Knights deal with Kadri is if the series goes seven games.

Fleury’s Locked In — But Lehner’s ready

There was speculation DeBoer was going to change goaltenders for Game 7 Friday. But he stuck with Marc-Andre Fleury and Fleury delivered a strong performance in the 6-2 win that sent the Knights on to Round Two.

Assuming Fleury came out of the first round in good shape physically, I would think we’ll see him for the majority of this series. But, VGK appear to be going with Lehner in Game 1, similar to the plan they deployed in the series against the Stars.

Lehner is well-rested. He is in a good place emotionally (did you see him throw his hat on the ice when Janmark got his hat trick late in Game 7?) And in the one game he played against Colorado this year (a 2-1 loss on May 10), he played well and the loss wasn’t his fault. He can give Fleury a chance to regroup physically and DeBoer can bring him back for Game 2 Wednesday if Lehner falters in Game 1.

It’s a new series against a new opponent. There’s been little recovery time between Friday to today as the team flew to Denver Saturday. Management says it has two No. 1 goalies. Here’s a chance for Lehner to play and contribute.

The roster is almost whole

With the return of Pacioretty and Ryan Reaves, the Knights get two experienced players with unique skillsets back in the lineup. They also have to expect they’ll get Brayden McNabb back at some point after McNabb tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the last two games of the first round.

The COVID thing is tricky. You’re relying on labs to get the results right and the Knights have dealt with their share of false positives this season. GM Kelly McCrimmon said Saturday the team meets the NHL’s vaccination threshold of 85%. But remember, you can still test positive despite being vaccinated.

The team has also done a good job of managing whatever is ailing defenseman Alec Martinez, who has to be banged up from blocking all those shots. Martinez had a team-best 26 blocked shots in the series vs. Minnesota and keeping him on the ice is essential if the Knights hope to defeat Colorado, especially if McNabb isn’t going to be available.

GMKM was asked about Peyton Krebs’ availability for this series. Unfortunately, Krebs’ broken jaw will keep him out vs. the Avs. But should the Knights advance, he might be able to play. That would be huge from a depth perspective.

No one asked about Tomas Nosek’s availability. But Patrick Brown has done a good job on centering the fourth line so not having Nosek isn’t as critical as having Pacioretty back.

Also, the Silver Knights’ season ended Saturday so anyone from that roster would be available on an as-needed basis.

So with so many positives going for them, why should you be concerned about the Golden Knights inning this series?

They’re going to have to keep MacKinnon in check and not let him dominate. Think what Winnipeg did to limit Connor McDavid and it was a big reason the Oilers are done. DeBoer has options, like playing Tuch and Janmark against MacKinnon’s line. He used Tuch against MacKinnon a couple of times during the regular season and it was effective.

The Knights are going to have to win at least one game at Ball Arena in Denver. Yes, they won twice in St. Paul in the first round. Yes, they do have a win in Denver from the regular season. But that was in an empty building on what was essentially a back-to-back after the debacle of an outdoor game in Lake Tahoe. This time, the Avs will have a sizable crowd. They’ll be loud and just like the Wild had to deal with that Friday with 12,156 in the Fortress, the Knights have to go into enemy territory and find a way to win at least one game as Colorado has home-ice advantage.

As for matching lines, I think DeBoer won’t overthink it when he has the last change in Vegas. He has confidence in his four lines and his D pairs. But maybe we don’t see Alex Pietrangelo on the ice vs. MacKinnon so as not to have another “Oh boy” moment.

As is always the case with two evenly matched teams such as these, it comes down to the little things. Whose special teams will be clicking? Who is winning the faceoffs, particularly the ones in their end? Who is not crossing the line or taking stupid offensive zone penalties?

The Knights tend to be more physical and I would expect them to try and take the body as often as possible, if for no other reason but to try and slow Colorado down. The Avs can hit you too and Vegas needs to brace for having the favor returned to it.

In the end, it’ll be the goaltending that decides it. Philipp Grubauer can steal a series but he’s also capable of struggling. I still can’t get out of my mind his being yanked in the first round of the 2018 playoffs vs. Columbus while with Washington as Barry Trotz opted for Braden Holtby. And we all know what happened as a result.

I don’t see Devan Dubnyk stepping into the breach if Grubauer falters and saving the Avs. I do think either Lehner or Fleury can bail the Knights out if the other guy gets hurt or is off his game.

With that in mind, I expect a great series with the Golden Knights finding a way to win at least once on the road and ultimately advance to the NHL’s Final Four by winning in six. Besides, Ken needs to sell more T-shirts and do more #HockeySquares so the least the Knights can do is help him out by extending their season another couple of weeks.

**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.**

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46 Comments

  1. THE hockey GOD

    oh boy talking about jinxing a team ! 🙁

    • Hockey god – If that’s all it takes to be a looser Vegas is in more trouble than you can imagine. If they play to their potential it wont be easy but they will come out the winners.

      • THE hockey GOD

        getting the arm jab and then testing for the VID is NOT a good sign; the voodoo and bad juju need to be expelled.

        I am calling the guy with expertise in this matter, Professor Roy Hinkley, Ph.D., high school science teacher. Experience in south Pacific islands. Specialty Watubi – ancient spiritual “witch doctor”.

        Calling now.

        • Julie

          HG, my guess is Professor Hinkley knows the jab isn’t FDA-approved, so some extra effort to dilute the bad juju is necessary. I believe it was one of the reasons Lehner struggled with taking the shot. I don’t blame him on that.

          • THE hockey GOD

            good one ! Julia (google Professor Roy Hinkley, if you don’t know who he is)

  2. knights fan in minny

    third line for vegas needs to play big in both ends lets go drop the puck where is doc

  3. DOC (Go Knights Go)

    Game 1 ….. Mission Impossible ?

    Would look like it, on paper. The Knights come in todays game with one day rest. (And a travel day to boot). The AVs have rested for a week.

    I feel Lehner will be thrown into the game today A) – Flurey needs rest. B) – IF the boys have nothing left for the game, Lehner will take the heat, Flurey won’t be embarrassed. ….. BUT:

    Sometimes teams ride the high of a game 7 win and put forth a great effort. Sometimes well rested teams can be rusty and not find their legs right away.

    It will be difficult, but possible today, in what I think will be another 7 game series!

    UPDATE: Lehner IS starting tonight!

    PS – Agree with your write up Carp!

  4. Howard

    Who is this guy anyways? It’s quite obvious he knows very little about The NHL…

    “he {Lehner} played well and the loss wasn’t his fault. He can give Fleury a chance to regroup physically and DeBoer can bring him back for Game 2 Wednesday if Lehner falters in Game 1.”

    Huh?

    I don’t mind going with Lehner in game 1, but no matter how well he plays, MAF is back in there for game 2. Honestly, I’ve never heard of “Steve Carp,” but based on his posts here, I can see why I’ve never heard of him.

    • Howard

      Ok ya, I remember who Carp is – He did a good job in the movie “SuperBad” as a youngster 🙂

    • Daryl

      I agree with you…. BUT it would not surprise me if PDB played Lehner in game 2 if he plays a great game 1. I don’t agree with it, but could see it happening

      • Jinklu

        Daryl, please tell me when Lehner The Lump has ever played a “great game” for VGK? He showed his true colors and lack of ability tonight. He is inadequate even for a backup.

        • Daryl

          You aren’t getting an argument from me… I was simply saying that if Lehner played a great game I could see PDB playing him again in game 2. Good thing we don’t have to worry about that now

  5. Ken

    Didn’t O’Reilly say the samething? Lol

  6. Daryl

    I love the comments about Lehner being the goat if they lose simply b/c the other players might be a little tired. As if it can never be his fault. This about the 5th time I’ve heard this. Yet, so many Lehner supporters were ready to blame MAF if they lost game 7

    • Howard

      Lehner is primary reason we don’t have home ice here, and MAF is primary reason we were in the position to have home ice. I estimate MAF stole us about 10 points this season, making great saves off of defensive breakdowns.

      The game for The President’s cup – MAF earned the right to be in net for that one. Instead, they put Lehner in there out of sheer arrogance, and he allowed 1 really bad goal. If that game went to OT, we have home ice. Lehner also single handedly himself blew Wild game – we go to OT there, we win President’s Cup. See the pattern?

      However, we must remember that we are dealing with an arrogant front office here.

      I do agree with giving MAF a rest, so I’m not against Lehner in there tonight. Lehner should have been in there for game 5 of the last series, seeing we had a 2 game cushion and at home. I’m not saying this feeling we could have won with Lehner in there that game, but simply for the reason to keep him a little warm and give MAF a rest with a 2 game cushion.

      What I’m against is this so-called sports writer suggesting Lehner gets net in game 2 if he does well here. MAF hasn’t played poorly in a way to warrant a net change. With perhaps game 5, MAF played solid the last series.

      Lehner has a habit for giving up one softie a game, which is why I call him Pekka Rinne JR. – another goalie everyone touted as ‘elite’ but never has been BECAUSE like Lehner, he gives up at least one softie a game.

      Goalies matter, ask Pens fans about that 🙁

      • Howard – while a lot of your posting elude to inside info and are full of BS I notice this one doesn’t and I must say I agree with you 100%. I am sure you could care less and that’s ok. Give credit due where due. MAF carried the Knights to the playoff and was screwed around where they lost home advantage and whether some like it or not he is the reason they are moving on to round two. I continue to smile to think the FO wanted him gone, it is beyond comprehension. Of course their last two addition for about 14 mill would have even the biggest supports shaking their heads. Talk about a waste of cap $$$$$.

      • Daryl

        Hey, leave my Pens out of this. They would be Cup bound if they had a good goalie

    • THE hockey GOD

      GOAT = greatest of all time.

    • Julie

      Daryl, they have to keep supporting Lehner because it’s easier than admitting acquiring Lehner wasn’t the best move. Notice the cap issue in their eyes only goes back to Petro. It hurts even more now because they were against Fleury for Lehner last year, Fleury stayed and countered last year with a fantastic performance this year covering for Lehner and leading both to the Jennings trophy. I really hope Lehner is 100% ready tonight. I figure they have to play him somehow because they overpaid for him regardless and Foley needs some ROI evidence because they will have Lehner for awhile.

      Just saw on Sportsnet they were questioning the goalie decision. Keith Jones (think that’s his name) paused and said he has to trust PDB and that maybe the logic is Colorado is rested, maybe a rested goalie is the PDB’s theory. Rest vs rust. Even NBC is sighing. NBC.

  7. DOC (Go Knights Go)

    It’s curious that those, who have already said the Knights will lose the series, to Colorado …. are still commenting. Their thoughts now, are useless, as to what the Knights do. They have already called them losers!

    • Howard

      On paper, VGK SHOULD lose, but doesn’t mean they will. Anyone with half-a hockey brain knows AVS are deeper and more talented man-for-man. But, I do think PDB’s system is superior to AVS system in terms of playoff hockey so Knights can win this series, it’s not like they’re huge underdogs here.

      NHL is unique – often times the better team on paper doesn’t win a playoff series. Ask Tampa about that 2 years ago 🙂 Also, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Stanley_Cup_playoffs

    • Daryl

      Again Rainbows and Unicorns. This VGK team is greatest of all time and nobody stands a chanve against us

    • Daryl

      Exactly who called VGK losers??? Your reading comprehension must be going with your old age. Only someone with no hockey knowledge would argue that the Avs are not the better team. And picking the favorite to win a series is not calling the underdog losers. Who is so stupid to even think that???

      • DOC (Go Knights Go)

        When this is over, your foot is going to be shoved so far down your big mouth, you’ll need mommy to pull it out.

  8. Tim

    Lehner sitting out the whole Wild series if that doesn’t get his juices going nothing will. I think he was a good choice and I believe he’ll be up to the task.

    • DOC (Go Knights Go)

      Lets hope so Tim!

      It must make the Flurey Cultists, (that’s what twitter calls them), cringe when they must root for Lehner!

      • Howard

        Dude, just shut it man. The so-called cultists on this board are the most knowledgeable NHl fans here. MAF has been the best goalie in hockey this year. If he was younger, Lehner would not see the net at all. Furthermore, facts are facts, MAF saved VGK bacon this year while Lehner cooked it.

        It’s about winning – we don’t care who is in the net as long as it gives the team the best chance to win, so please just stuff it Doc.

        • DOC (Go Knights Go)

          Hey blowhard. I was talking about twitter. Can’t you read? But, if you weren’t one of these people you would have just ignored it. You didn’t! Tells me all I need to know!

      • Daryl

        Wrong again but you must be used to it. Werootfor VGK to win, not a goalie. We just think MAF gives VGK the best chance. Especially if you consider Lehner hasnt beaten a team with a winning record all season

        • Howard

          As I told you, there’s Pekka Rinne’s per usual softie goal allowed. Lehner is a back up, period and not an elite goalie. MAF needed the rest, so as I clearly stated, I’m ok with it, but PLEASE stop thinking Lehner is elite, HE IS NOT!

          • Daryl

            I’m sure someone on here will say it wasn’t his fault

          • Howard

            Pekka Rinne JR. being Pekka Rinne JR. Now, VGK isn’t playing well enough to win, even with MAF in there. But this is sad to watch. We are stuck with a back up quality goalie for years to come because of our arrogant and stupid front office — also, Petro is getting destroyed out there = $14M between the 2 of them that hamstrung our team.

            Fire Deboer? LOLOL, NO! Fire front office? YES!

  9. the real overpaid dman

    from Pro Hockey rumors======

    Vancouver Canucks Open To Moving Nate Schmidt—–

    acquisition Nate Schmidt, who they picked up from Vegas for a 2022 third-round pick.

    Of course, things didn’t work out for Schmidt, who just didn’t seem to be a good fit with Vancouver this year. The 29-year-old played in all but two games for the Canucks, but couldn’t get it going offensively with just 15 points in 54 games, quite a difference from the 31 points he posted in 59 games with Vegas in 2019-20. That’s not exactly what Vancouver envisioned when it took on Schmidt’s contract, which suddenly doesn’t look so good on their payroll as Schmidt still has four more years at $5.95MM

  10. DOC (Go Knights Go)

    AS expected!

    We are down big in 2nd.

    The sacrificial lamb has been sacrificed!

    We’ll get some rest and come back strong Wed!

    • Daryl

      Of course with you Lehner doesn’t take any of the blame for this game!!!

  11. Howard

    Where’s the doo doo ball who said he would not trade Tuch straight up for MacKinnon? I mean just, LOLOLOLOLOL!!!

    • Twopipes

      Did someone really say or think that? Wow! MacKinnon is the best player in the world. Don’t even start with Connor McGolfing.

  12. THE hockey GOD

    my take on tonight , for what iit is worth.

    – push button pete made his gravest mistake in playoffs to date, in starting an un- professional goalie who was not prepared. PBD should have had better a back up plan in an AHL goalie on bench (since he had no intent to use MAF, why dress him?). And he could have pulled the lard butt after three goals (probably wouldn’t have mattered). But this game means lenard doesn’t get into another game in this series.
    – the AVS are wussies, GRAVES should have taken it like a man. He was challenged and he wussed out . He wouldn’t take responsibility for his actions. This isn’t over, his actions says so. This isn’t over by a long shot. Then he laughed at 28 when he got called for a penalty.
    – if this were Toronto or Montreal the home team would have an arrest warrant ready for Graves . But Vegas is so hockey dumb, they are clueless and won’t do anything. If this were a “real ” hockey town , like Toronto or Montreal, you can bet your bottom dollar they would bring ALL measures into place. ALL of them, including police enforcement. And finding out where the visiting team is staying when they are in town, among other things (like the Avs do not eat here, etc. )

    • Daryl

      You have really lost it. VGK fans should mass a lynching??? Graves hit on Janmark was no different than Reaves hit in the last series. At least Janmark was able to turn around and should have seen the hit coming if he wasn’t watching his pass. Yes Graves should have faced the music like a man but if he doesn’t, you can’t keep mugging him as that isn’t going to do any good. VGK used the 3rd period to show their true colors and COL just laughed at them the entire time, as I would have done. Reaves is pure trash and hopefully he will be suspended for the rest of the season.

      And I’ll throw this out there, a VGK player had his own hit to the face which knocked a COL player out of the game. Why aren’t you all upset over that hit???

      • THE hockey GOD

        don’t put words in my post(s) that aren’t there.

        Reaves and Graves both should be in jail for assault with deadly weapon, I didn’t see a single Colorado player helped off the ice.

        And what I have said has occurred many times over the years in playoff series, there is nothing new there at all.

        • Daryl

          COL had two players that went down and misses time in that game. And when exactly did fans take matters into their own hands and went witch hunting?

  13. Twopipes

    Really disappointed in the Knights playing poorly and losing their composure. I’m betting Reaves is out for a couple of games anyway depending on how Graves is doing. This is why they needed to close out the Wild. The Knights were simply outclassed today.

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