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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.

Since Max Pacioretty returned to the lineup for Game 7 in the first round against Minnesota, he has registered at least one point in every game. So his return has been huge. Having Brayden McNabb back after he had tested positive for COVID-19 has given DeBoer some much-needed depth on the blue line. He can rotate Nick Holden and Nic Hague in the lineup, give Alec Martinez days off between games and have him ready to block shots and contribute offensively when the real shooting starts on game night. DeBoer has managed Martinez beautifully in that regard.

The Knights have 249 blocked shots in the postseason and it will be a challenge for the Canadiens to get constant good looks in the high-danger areas. It’s a huge edge to the Knights.

Vegas is also getting balanced scoring. All four lines are contributing offensively and should that continue, this could be a short series. Montreal does not match up with the Knights up front.

I like the fact the Knights are getting to the net, getting tip-ins, rebounds and making the opposing defense account for the forwards. William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith have been really good in the postseason and it feels like they turned the clock back to 2018 the way they’re impacting the game.

I mentioned Pacioretty earlier. The Canadiens better watch their former captain closely or he’s going to have a very happy return to the Bell Centre later this week. Pacioretty seems to be getting better with each game and that seven-game point streak he’s currently enjoying is looking big right now.

If you think this is going to be a walkover en route to the Final, guess again. The Habs have won seven straight. They’re the ones with no pressure, even from their rabid fan base. Incidentally, did you see the way thousands celebrated in the streets after the Canadiens eliminated Winnipeg? Montreal has been waiting since 1993 for a big party and this team will no doubt try and provide the entertainment that leads to a province-wide celebration.

Yes, these teams haven’t faced each other since January 2020. DeBoer had just replaced Gerard Gallant and it was his second time behind the Vegas bench. The fact there’s unfamiliarity cuts both ways. Montreal may be in the dark as much as the Knights are.

But that will quickly dissipate. It won’t take long to adjust and find the weaknesses and exploit them. And all the cool storylines about Pacioretty facing his former team, Nick Suzuki taking on the team that drafted him, Jon Merrill returning to Vegas (assuming he is cleared to play) and the Knights’ Francophiles (Fleury, Marchessault, and Will Carrier) returning to their native province will all make for great sound bytes on TV on both sides of the border.

But eventually, it’ll be about what happens on the ice. Essentially, the Canadiens are playing with house money. No one expected them to be in this situation. When they were down 3-1 to Toronto in the first round, that’s when people were bailing from the lifeboats, a reference DeBoer tried to lay on the Knights’ fan base and media after Game 1 in Denver and again after Game 2. They’ll be loose and confident. They know they’re playing one of the NHL’s best teams. But they also know they’re a good team and I expect a great effort from them.

That said, the Knights are hitting their stride. They got past two tough opponents to get to this point without a couple of their key contributors not hitting on all cylinders. Pietrangelo was the Knights’ best player against Colorado and I would look for him to build on his performance here in the semis. Shea Theodore hasn’t been the player we saw in the Edmonton bubble last year. He’s goal-less in 13 games this postseason, but he’s showing signs of life offensively (he has six assists) and if he gets it going, look out.

DeBoer continues to push the right buttons. He brought Ryan Reaves back in for Game 6. He kept Holden in the lineup. His players are buying into playing team defense and showing resiliency when they get down a goal or two.

It’s a veteran team and that will help as they deal with being the first U.S. team to travel to Canada this season and with it will come some familiar restrictions. No going out on the town for dinner. No meeting up with family and friends. It’s airport-to-hotel-to-rink-to-hotel-to airport.

But the Knights will catch a break. Instead of 20,000 fans in the Bell Centre, it’ll be more like 2,500. And as rabid as Canadiens fans can be, it won’t be what the Habs will experience Monday in the Fortress with more than 18,0000 rooting against them.

I’m sure the message for the Knights when they head to Canada will be “This is a business trip, boys. Let’s not have to come back here a second time (for Game 6).” The Knights’ maturity and experience of having endured the Edmonton bubble for a couple of months last summer should help them deal with whatever restrictions the NHL has put in place.

So with that said, I believe the Knights are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in their brief four-year existence. This is their third trip to the semis, which in itself is a remarkable accomplishment. But this was the plan all along. This is why they won the Pietrangelo Sweepstakes. This is why they gave Lehner a five-year, $25 million deal and found themselves up against the salary cap all season. This is why they brought DeBoer in as the coach.

They are here and they may very well be the last man standing. Or at least they’ll have that chance after they defeat the Canadiens in five games and doing it in the favorites, not the underdog’s role.

**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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29 Comments

  1. DOC (Go Knights Go)

    SEMI – FINALS !

    TB/NYI ………. The defending champion Lightning will be tuff to unseat. They have their best player back (after missing the reg season), have fire power throughout their lineup and have the best goalie on the planet. ….. BUT:

    The Islanders are tuff as nails. Have a solid defensive system and hungry to beat TB. IF goalies get hot, they could make things interesting. (My hope is that they beat & bang the shit out of each other and go 7 games). A Islander upset would be a bonus.

    VGK/Mon ………. Our Knights are huge favorites, but, the Canadians are playing well, 7 in a row in playoffs. They have some capable vets and some speed. Their most important weapon is Carey Price. He is playing great.

    Our boys just simply have to continue to play relentless. Montreal had a couple more days off, but one day consumed by that long plane ride cross country to get here. If the Canadians are allowed to get a win in either gm 1 or 2, their confidence will grow, Can’t allow that to happen.

    So it’s old man Flurey vs older man Price. ( maybe we see Lehner in one of first two games)? We’ll see.

    • Stephen Lombard

      I’m guessing we don’t see fleury and I totally agree with you here! Glad to see NY win game 1 for sure. And you’re right we just need to keep playing our game and we’ll be alright!

      • DOC (Go Knights Go)

        Yea, those Islanders are tuff cookies and they got the goal-tending they needed today. TB will probably come back very strong on Tuesday.

        • Stephanie

          Why would anyone want to see a Trotz coached team ? Ughh hes unbelievably smart . If we get through the next series? Please just focus on 1 game and 1 team first people.Thanks

    • Peter Turner

      Just FYI. Price is 33 years old while MAF is 36. But other than that everyone is saying Price is a better goalie than MAF and that’s why he’s Canada’s national team’s choice and he’s won the Vezina and makes almost twice more than MAF.
      On the other hand, MAF has 3 Stanley Cups. How many does Price have? Go ahead and hype up your more expensive goalie, MAF plays his best when he has no pressure to prove anything. All that pressure is on Price’s $10Million shoulder.

      However in my analysis, MAF will outperform Carey Price in this series. Why? Contrary to popular belief, MAF is better rested because of his constant rotation with Lehner throughout the regular season. Price had to carry out his duties every day rescuing the team from yet another regular season loss. So much was on him that he got hurt and basically gave up. What did MTL management do? Fire his goalie coach and that woke Price up and he had to go back to being superman for his team. Sooner or later, the wear and tear will begin to affect him. He is built like a tight-end. Big, bulky and muscular and has the reflexes to go along with it. MAF is built like a acrobat, not as big and muscular but flexible and just as fast. Unless it’s a hit to his head, he will be less prone to everyday injuries sustained during the playoffs.

      Think about it, MTL has been in the playoffs 10 times out of 14 ever since Price took over the net and none of those times did they make it past the third round to the cup finals. Of course there are hundreds of reasons but I can bet you that the one reason that occurs more often than the others is that Price got injured at the end of the series in which they were eliminated.

      That being said, MAF will have his work cut out for him in this series because MTL is a team that thrives on scoring dirty, greasy goals in front of the goalie net. The chances of Corey Perry finding ways to deflect Weber’s bomb of a shot with his stick, body, shin pads, skate into the net will be high if his large frame isn’t already parked in front of MAF blocking his view.

      All we can hope is that our guys keep blocking those shot attempts from reaching MAF and we keep the puck in their zone for as much time as possible. That is how we win this series.

      Go Knights Go!

      • DOC (Go Knights Go)

        Yes, Price is younger. My arithmetic was off. ha

        But, WHO is saying Price is better? You mean the NHL talking heads?

        • jinklu

          You got it Doc. The party line out of Toronto is that Price is the better goalie. They have been singing that song for years yet he still has not produced in the playoffs. Patrick Roy won the Cup and Conn Smythe as a 20 year old rookie; then followed up with 3 more Cups (1 with Mtl and 2 with the Avs) and 2 more Conn Smythes. I don’ t doubt Price is a good goalie. I just don’t believe based on his history that he will win the big games. Go get him Knights. I want this to be your year.

  2. Richard Santomauro

    “Yada, Yada, Yada, the $8.8 million defenseman is earning his pay (finally!).”

    #7 has played 13 playoff games so far and he’s been very good in 2 of them. So let’s not be overly optimistic – yet. The goal in his last game only offset the dumb delay of game penalty that he was responsible for. Flipping the puck over the glass for a game delay with no pressure on him whatsoever is just a lack of concentration.

    That’s where my criticism ends though. He’s plays a lot of minutes and he is very good handling and passing the puck when not under pressure. It’s now go time for #7 and PDB.

    I am going to predict that Lehner will be between the pipes in games 1 and 2. Why? Besides the fact that we are heavy favorites, McCrimmin and McPhee want to prove that their decision to bring him in was a sound one. I will be surprised if MAF is in net. If Lehner plays well we may see him finish off the semifinal series if he does well and wins games 1 and 2. The smart move is to then bring in a well rested Fleury for the Cup final. Personally, I hope they don’t do this because you normally stay with the hot hand.

    As much as people love Cinderella stories, Montreal isn’t going to Stanley Cup final this year. If the Golden Knights don’t sweep they move on in 5.

    • Howard

      Lol!! They’re NOT going to insert Lehner into this series unless MAF plays bad or is hurt. He only saw action last series because VGK was on short 1 day rest after a tough 7 game series.

      • We wouldn’t be facing Montreal if the walrus had been in the net again last series ,end of story. As far as the splash brothers trying to justify and prove their decision concerning him now is not th he time of place for an experiment, unless of course everyone is anxious to hit the golf course and be done with the playoffs.

    • jinklu

      Richard, have you forgotten the “stellar” performance by Lehner in the first game of the Avs series? Your scenario of inserting him in games 1 and 2 of the Habs series would further humiliate the man and might even ensure the Knights would be on the golf course after a 4 game sweep. Even they could not overcome double digit leads against Price and the Habs. Foley wants a Cup. This is his best chance to get one. Lehner does not fit into that. If the McDummies in the FO were to push for him they could IMO both be on the golf course the whole season next year.

  3. Not sure the splash brothers should try and prove their walrus move if the intent is to close out this series in 5 or less. Whether we like it or not or prefer to believe otherwise l can’t imagine Montreal getting this far and rolling over dead. It is a very dangerous state of mind to under estimate the under dogs l am sure you remember that was Vegas role last series. I frankly believe Vegas has a tendency to play better under that condition. Just an observation from past experience. Vegas should prevail but it’s not going to be easy.

  4. STEPHANIE

    I dont get why you guys are mad at DeBoer about the underdog thing .Marchy loves that role and quite frankly the whole misfit mindset and they’re out to prove to everyone they deserve to be there fuels them .so maybe you guys should leave it alone .cocky confident is the kiss of death compared to quiet confidence

  5. Fred

    Congrats on the series win you earned it Vegas. Please quit blaming the officials when you lose a game its beneath the game. it’s a COVID year shortened season so there will always be an asterisk by the Stanley cup winner this year. Good luck

    • Richard Santomauro

      Avs fans have no right to complain after your star, McKinnon, tried to rip Whitecloud’s head right off from his shoulders in the D-ZONE and got no call. If every single cross check or hold was called it wouldn’t be hockey at all. Game 1 was a fluke on short rest. Avs were outplayed in game 2 but got the win in OT.

      It was a very close playoff series and even the season was very close between VGK and COL.

      As for the asterik, I believe this format is even tougher than the regular one. Shortened season, less rest.

      No one who loves this game can say that these playoffs have been any less challenging. In fact, they’ve been very competitive and entertaining. Every fan of the four remaining teams would say that. It’s understandable why losers would feel differently. So – go ahead, if it makes ya feel better stick an asterik on your season.

    • DOC (Go Knights Go)

      I doubt there will be any asterisk, but even if there was, who would give a shit? Certainty not the team that wins!!!!

  6. Fred

    COVID shortened season the winner of the Stanley cup this year will always have an ASTERICK by it. Good luck Vegas you deserve it

  7. THE hockey GOD

    Nice write up here Carpo

    some posters here are losing it!

    coo coo
    for
    cocoa puffs

    nutzo in the cabeza

    pazzo

    loco

    משוגע

    (mshuge)

    • Howard

      You of all people are claiming people are ‘losing it here?’ Lolol, that’s rich as you are by far the biggest looney tune that posts on this site!

      • THE hockey GOD

        well I NEVER !!

        At least I am not losing it !

        • Hg – no worry – To late you already have. Anyone delusional enough to think they are god says it all. No other explanation necessary. Here’s to win number 1 this evening – hopefully. It is going to prove to be an interesting series.

          • THE hockey GOD

            it’s hockey God, not God !

            big Difference

            hopefully yes. Hopefully the HABS are dehydrated by the Vegas heat and spent most of their time sucking in that stale Hotel air, or at bottom floor of casino betting, then going to nightclubs, staying out late, and coming in with a hang over. Maybe VGK should wear those putrid gold shiny caps in order to further blind the opposing team ?

            I expect the HABS to come out flying in first five minutes bouncing players all over the ice to try and set the tone.

            Got a call into Miracle Max, maybe he put a few of those pucks into his freezing chamber with those magic pills.

  8. Bill

    You guys biched about the officiating the first two games you lost. Then what do ya know the officials were great after they stopped calling Holding , obstructing, I hope you guys win the Stanley cup this year because it’s a COVID year shortened season it will mean so much for ya lol

    • DOC (Go Knights Go)

      Don’t know who your team is pal … but you are spouting nothing but sour grapes! ha ha ha

  9. Bill

    Are going to approve any of my comments or are you just VGN homer?

  10. Bill

    Are going to approve any of my comments or are you just VGN homer?

  11. A VGK Fan

    When it comes down to Goalie battles, MAF always steps up his game and shows everyone who the better goalie is. He did that again LA Kings in our first playoffs against Quick. Very low scoring series. He also did that against Hellebuyck, who was touted to being as good as Fleury.

    MAF takes talk about his ability personally, and you can tell, because when it comes down to who is better he always steps up to the plate.

    Lehner is a good goalie, but MAF is special.

  12. THE hockey GOD

    i will never forget him robbing DRW and lindstrom in final seconds in game7 when he was with the PENS

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