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Canadiens Say The Pressure Is On Vegas

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

According to our friends at William Hill, the Golden Knights were heavy favorites to win their Semifinals series against the Canadiens. The odds have adjusted (-340) since Montreal picked up two victories in four games. However, most believe Vegas is the better team and should advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.

**Don’t forget, you can get a free VGK jersey by signing up for a new William Hill account using promo code SINBIN100. Click here for full details!**

So as the series goes deeper, is pressure building for the Golden Knights?

You come into this series and obviously there’s a certain rhetoric of how the series is supposed to go. I’m not saying they bought into it or believed it, we definitely didn’t. There is a certain expectation on their side. The longer this series goes, the more pressure falls on them.-Brendan Gallagher, MTL forward

Gallagher brings up some valid points because let’s face it, there are hefty expectations from the Golden Knights organization. This is their third semifinal in four seasons and management has built an expensive, experienced club. And we can’t forget about The Creator’s “Cup in six” decree. So yeah, to say there are expectations in Vegas is putting it mildly.

The Golden Knights have performed well as a favorite and also a slight underdog. Maybe coach Pete DeBoer and captain Mark Stone felt they proved the hockey world wrong by cutting down Colorado in six, but in reality, it was cute rhetoric to stay positive. The semifinals against Montreal is completely different. Vegas might be the better overall team but being widely chosen to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals can add a layer of internal pressure. Pressure that only mounts when you consider how things ended last year.

It’s great that we tied the series, but at some point the big guys are going to kind of have to come out and step up here, including myself. I think it’s not good enough for the forward group that we have only three goals in four games. Obviously, we’re facing an unbelievable goalie, but that’s no excuse. It’s the same thing last year against Vancouver, Dallas. It’s the same thing, we’ve got to find a way and we don’t have any excuses, we need a solution ASAP, and we need to help our team wins some games here. -Jonathan Marchessault

The Canadiens have proven the doubters wrong but with three games left to decide a winner and two at T-Mobile Arena, the series is set up to favor the Golden Knights. Game 5 isn’t a must-win for Vegas but a loss on home ice would ramp up the pressure the Canadiens forward suggested.

We get more and more comfortable in these situations and we’re looking forward to it. We’ve shortened it to a best of three. We’ve gone into Vegas and we know what it’s going to be like, an electric atmosphere for sure. They definitely feed off their fans but now that we’ve experienced it we’re going to be more and more comfortable. -Gallagher, MTL forward

Of course, pressure and stress can build the deeper an elite team advances but it hasn’t overwhelmed the Golden Knights yet this postseason.

The Golden Knights came back against Minnesota in Game 3. Vegas beat the Wild in Game 7, started another comeback in Game 3 against Colorado. They beat the Avs in Game 4 to even the series and won Game 5 in OT on the road. All the pressure was on the Golden Knights in Game 4 in this series, and Gallagher knows how that one went.

Every crucial moment the Golden Knights needed focus and urgency they got it. Expect the same tonight.

VGK Have Been Through Enough To Curb Any Doubt Of Dealing With Series Deficit

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If there’s one thing the 2021 Golden Knights are used to it’s rapid change. Whether it be pandemic-related or hockey-related, this team has been through some crazy ups and downs 34 days into this playoff run.

For the first time this postseason Vegas is experiencing a blown series lead. They’ve turned around two series deficits to take leads in a series and they’ve seen a 3-1 lead turn into a Game 7, but never before in 2021 have they been ahead in the series only to go behind in the same one.

But to think the Golden Knights will do anything but handle this with composure would be ludicrous based on the postseason they’ve been through so far.

16 games into this playoff run, the Golden Knights have experienced 16 leads and 15 deficits. They’ve seen the lead change inside of a game on eight different occasions, including six times they were behind in a game and took the lead. They’ve scored eight game tying goals while also allowing eight of their own. And maybe the most important stat of all to prove this team will not panic down a game in a series is that the Golden Knights have been behind in an unbelievable 13 of the 16 playoff games.

I don’t think there’s any emotional damage (chuckling). I think that’s a pretty harsh way of putting it. We were down 0-2 to Colorado and got smoked 7-1 in the first game and brutally dominated for 20 minutes and then really deserved to win the game and lose that one. -Mark Stone

They haven’t been exactly here before, down 2-1 after losing a Game 3, but it feels like they have been. In truth, it feels like they’ve been in every situation imaginable to this point and it hasn’t all worked out perfectly, but they are still here.

Vegas have scored 16 go-ahead goals in the postseason. Add that to their eight game-tying goals and that’s 24 different times in which there have been massive emotional positive swing goals. On the other side, they’ve allowed the go-ahead goal  15 times and allowed the tying goal another eight. So, in total, there have been 47 different times inside of 16 games in which the score has shifted from a leader to tied or vise versa.

To this point, the Golden Knights have always had an answer.

Jonathan Marchessault’s game-tying goal in Game 2 against Minnesota. Alex Tuch’s go-ahead one in the same game. The three goal comeback in Game 3. Game 7’s unlikely heroes. Marchessault and Pacioretty in Game 3 against Colorado. Stone in overtime of Game 5. And the list goes on and on and on.

Big goals and big wins are anything but foreign to the Golden Knights in these playoffs.

Now it’s time for someone, or everyone, to step forward once again and pick up the goalie that is a huge reason why they are here in the first place.

Any time a team trails in a series facing a road game next there’s reason for some doubt to seep in. But with the Golden Knights, doubt should be the last thing on the mind for this bunch that has literally been there and done that.

Will Vegas Solve Montreal’s Stingy Defense

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s possible in Game 1 the Golden Knights defeated a Canadiens team that didn’t play to their full identity. Clearly, Vegas executed theirs by pressuring Montreal resulting in four goals scored against goaltender Carey Price. However, things were different in Game 2 and likely for the remainder of the Semifinals series.

Everybody who was supposed to be who they are identity wise for the Montreal Canadiens played to their role. And it got Vegas uncomfortable. Where Vegas hasn’t been uncomfortable before. -Aaron Ward, Former defenseman and TSN analyst

Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry was absent for Game 1 but his presence on Wednesday allowed the Original Six franchise to clean up their endzone coverage and move the puck effectively. In their second matchup, the Canadiens pushed Vegas shooters wider than they had in Game 1. The Golden Knights had only eight low-quality attempts on net as opposed to 11 in Game 2.

This postseason with Petry in the lineup the Canadiens allow 2.20 goals per game and given up 3.00 without him.

My best asset is my legs my skating ability. Just focusing on that and closing quickly. -Jeff Petry, MTL defenseman

Tonight, Vegas will need to find ways to utilize the traffic in front of Montreal’s net. 13 of the 32 goals the Canadiens have allowed in the playoffs were from defenseman, including five in six periods from Golden Knights blueliners. Alex Pietrangelo’s goal in Game 2 was a great example how to get around Montreal’s stingy defense. The former Cup winner patiently waited for a screen to develop and slipped a shot through Petry’s legs and past Price. There’s not much an elite goaltender can do when he can’t see the puck.

The Golden Knights have scored on mobile defenseman this postseason but neither of their prior opponents were as big as the Canadiens defensive unit. To combat that, Vegas can match with their own size to jam, screen, and stuff in front of the goaltender. And of course taking advantage of rebounds, loose pucks, and all the grease that occurs in the playoffs.

Since their Game 6 loss against Minnesota, Vegas has responded well after a playoff loss. There’s no reason to believe they won’t tonight for Game 3 in Montreal. Sure, with a full deck the Canadiens will be more difficult to break through but Vegas has the creativity, size, and skill to neutralize any club’s defense. Price can’t bail his teammates out the entire series.

How The Montreal Canadiens Have Generated Offense In The Playoffs

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Coming into this semi-final series with Vegas, the Montreal Canadiens have not trailed in a game for 7 hours, 17 minutes, and 53 seconds or 437:53 of hockey. It’s the second-longest streak in NHL Playoff history and the longest since 1961. The Habs have scored first in nine of their 11 playoff games and went on to win eight of those nine, and they have outscored their opponents 24-12 on their current seven-game playoff winning streak.

The Golden Knights have earned their position as heavy favorites in this series, but this is not your ordinary underdog, this is a confident team that is as hot as any team has been all year and they haven’t seen a deficit, let alone a defeat, in more than two weeks.

So, how are they doing it? Glad I asked and you read it so thus now you asked.

First off, they’ve done it with a combination of excellent goaltending coupled with strong defense. The Habs allowed just 87 scoring chances in their four-game sweep of the Winnipeg Jets with just 33 of them coming in high-danger situations. That’s 22 chances per game and about 8 high-danger. Compare that to VGK who just got off a tough series over Colorado where they allowed 28 chances per game and 11 per night at high-danger.

They have allowed plenty of goals though, so it’s not like they are unbeatable. You can read more about how those goals got through and what the Golden Knights need to do to create offense here.

In this article, we’re focused more on stopping Montreal’s attack.

The Habs have scored 28 goals this postseason in 11 games, or 2.55 per game. Since they fell behind 3-1 in the series to Toronto, they’ve scored 24 in seven games, or 3.43 per game. They clearly can score and they’ve been doing it in a variety of ways.

There are three main avenues the Canadiens usually take to score their offense. The three are (1) capitalizing on turnovers in the neutral zone or their own zone to quickly transition, (2) using a strong forecheck to create o-zone turnovers, and (3) winning battles right in front of the net.

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Block Party! Golden Knights Blocked Their Way To The Semi-Final

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have battled and bruised their way through 13 tough games this postseason and with two series under their belt and another a few days away, Vegas seem to have found a simple yet painful approach to beating their opponents. Blocking shots.

We presented the numbers after Game 2 against Colorado and the trend continued throughout the six-game series. The Golden Knights have become a shot-blocking brigade. After last night, the Golden Knights are 7-1 in the postseason when they block 18 or more per game. In their Game 6 clincher, VGK blocked 34 shot attempts from Colorado. We can only imagine the extra-long ice bath Alec Martinez needed after the 6-3 victory.

Playoff Blocked Shots By The Numbers

VGK 249 Total Blocked Shots (1st)
VGK 19.00 Blocked Shots Per 60 (2nd)
Alec Martinez 52 Blocked Shots (1st)
Alex Pietrangelo 36 Blocked Shots (2nd)
Zach Whitecloud 30 Blocked Shots (4th)

When Pete DeBoer took over as the Golden Knights coach he stated shot blocking would be a heavy factor in how the team defended and it was non-negotiable. Well, the coach wasn’t kidding. His players lead all playoff teams with 249 total blocked shots and have 47 more than the NY Islanders who are next with 198 blocked shots. Painful as it is, game after game the Golden Knights have sacrificed their bodies to frustrate snipers like Nathan MacKinnon.

Vegas’ next opponent the Montreal Canadiens will most likely fall victim to clogged shooting lanes and dud shot attempts as well. After two rounds the Canadiens opponents averaged 15 blocked shots per game. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets blocked a total of 170 shots in 11 games against the North Division champion. Vegas should be able to match if not exceed the average amount Montreal has faced all postseason.

The Golden Knights will need to be aware of facing shot-blockers like themselves. Defensemen Ben Chiarot, Joel Edmunson, and Jeff Petry log heavy minutes and average four or more blocked shots per game. It’s not in Martinez’s neighborhood but the Canadiens have guys that are willing to throw themselves into a hard slap shot as well.

Shot blocking isn’t the sole reason the Golden Knights have advanced to the semifinals but it’s been effective. If Vegas continues to frustrate sharpshooters and defensive weapons on the blueline they should be to limit Montreal’s offense, like they did to Colorado. Facing a goaltender like Carey Price, goals will likely be tough to come by. Relying on basic, fearless hockey could be the difference for Vegas in the penultimate series.

Just think, Martinez has 50 or so shots left to block before he can hoist the Cup. Luckily he’ll have plenty of time for his puck-sized bruises to heal in the offseason.

VGK’s Top-Line “Phenomenal” Against MacKinnon And Colorado’s Best

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

To beat the Colorado Avalanche, you must neutralize their top line. The trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog scored 70 goals and tallied 183 points in the 56-game regular season. Since the playoffs have begun, they’ve actually upped their pace with 16 goals and 36 assists in seven games.

In the three games against the Golden Knights, the Avs best have scored seven goals and added five more assists. If that continues through the series, the Golden Knights have little to no chance to come back and win. But, when we break the numbers down a bit, Vegas have actually had much more success against the Colorado top line recently and it’s the main reason they have a chance to even the series in Game 4.

I haven’t seen the stats, but go ahead and check the numbers on our top guys tonight and see what they did compared to their top guys. It’s not close. -Jared Bednar, COL coach (after Game 3)

In Game 3, Vegas’ top line shared the ice with MacKinnon for a little more than 10 minutes. The Golden Knights outshot the Avs 7-3, they outchanced Colorado 11-4, held the Avalanche’s best to zero high-danger chances while creating six, and most importantly, scored the game-winning goal.

Digging deeper, the numbers have been that way the entire series, even during the terrible Game 1. To simplify, we’ll look just at the centers playing against MacKinnon, but the numbers are similar for each of their lines as a whole.

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Optimistic Trend Leans Toward Vegas After Ugly 7-1 Defeat

There’s no getting around it, Sunday’s loss was a brutal one for Vegas. Losing 7-1 was not what anyone was expecting, including the Avalanche. Golden Knights fans need to remember that it was just one game in hopefully a long series. Vegas lost on the road to an excellent team that was well rested and highly motivated to win an important home game. But, even after falling in the opening game of the Second Round, the Golden Knights are still in good shape. Historically, they’re in great shape.

Since 2001, teams coming off of a Game 7 victory tend to perform better when they advance to play a team coming off a four-game sweep. It’s the classic rested vs. tested argument.

In a 20 year span, only fix series were matched up when one team swept their last series took on a team off a Game 7 victory. The Vegas and Colorado series is the sixth occurrence. Up until this postseason, organizations that needed a Game 7 to advance were undefeated.

Teams Coming Off Game 7 vs. Teams Coming Off A Series Sweep (2001-Present)

2001 Western Conference Finals: COL (Coming off Game 7) clinched series 4-1 over St. Louis (Coming off a sweep)

2003 Stanley Cup Finals: NJ (Coming off Game 7) clinched series 4-3 over Anaheim (Coming off a sweep)

2009 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals: CAR (Coming off Game 7) clinched 4-3 over BOS (Coming off a sweep)

2019 Eastern Conference Second Round: BOS (Coming off Game 7) clinched 4-2 over Columbus (Coming off a sweep)

2019 Eastern Conference Second Round: CAR (Coming off Game 7) clinched 4-0 over NYI (Coming off a sweep)

*2021 West Division Final: Vegas (Coming off Game 7) vs. Colorado (Coming off a sweep)

Teams Coming Off Game 7: (5-0)

It’s certainly shocking that in five previous situations the team with more games under their belt came out on top. The obvious answer would be that too much rest impacted the losing club but there are always other factors. If the Golden Knights can win four out of the next six they will keep the streak alive and be the sixth team to advance to the next round

One reason why teams coming off a Game 7 victory have found success against their next opponent is largely because of the results from Game 1. Teams coming off a sweep are 1-4 against teams coming off Game 7 in the first game of a series. Unfortunately, Vegas wasn’t able to capture the first contest against Colorado but it may not matter. In the 2009 playoffs, Carolina lost the first game to Boston and ended winning the series in seven games. The Golden Knights have the ability to accomplish that, and maybe in fewer games.

Hey, I know Vegas lost by six goals in a dreadfully lopsided game but there’s still room for optimism. A visiting team’s mission is to split the first two games of the series. In most cases, it’s difficult capturing one so the first two-game split is highly important for Vegas. Being in a situation that they can still make that happen should give confidence to the players and fans.

Pete DeBoer’s Time Is Now

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When Kelly McCrimmon called Pete DeBoer to talk about becoming the next head coach of the Golden Knights, DeBoer’s reason why he was the right man for the job rested on one thing.

I’ve taken two teams to Stanley Cup Finals. I went to a Western Conference Final last year. We’ve played 60 playoff games in the last four years in San Jose so I think probably my biggest pitch would be I feel like I know what buttons to push to have success at that time of year. -DeBoer at VGK intro proess conference on 1/16/20 in Ottawa

It’s that time of year and there plenty of different buttons for him to press.

Whether we’re talking about tangible or intangible decisions, DeBoer has to make the right ones in Game 7 tomorrow night, or the castle the Golden Knights have built for themselves will instantly look much more like a house of cards.

If the Golden Knights lose this game, everything will be questioned. From the decisions made in Game 7 itself to those made across the series back to the ones made in the regular season and as far back as the offseasons before it that have brought us here. How good is this team actually? Is the whole thing a mirage? Have they gone completely in the wrong direction from where they were when they lifted the Campbell Bowl in Winnipeg in 2018?

It’ll all be on trial… if they lose.

But, if they win, the blown 3-1 series lead vanishes, and everything looks just like it did less than a week ago with the focus on upending a great Colorado team and continuing on towards the ultimate prize.

So, quite simply, the man who sold himself on knowing how to win these games has to do it.

His resume speaks for itself in this situation. DeBoer boasts a perfect 5-0 record in Game 7’s, he’s never been on the losing side of a series in which his team has led by two games, and he’s won 11 of the 17 series in which he’s coached. Plus, his team in Vegas, in this very same situation, blanked the Vancouver Canucks 3-0 in Game 7 last year and played an excellent game in doing so.

The past is the past though, the only thing that matters now is this very next game, and he must be perfect in every choice he makes.

Which goalie does he pick? Keep the lines the same or mix them up? Force the injured guys back in? Look for different in-game matchups? Balance the time on ice or keep leaning on the stars?

Every single one has to be right, and the only way to make them right is for the Golden Knights to score at least one more goal than the Wild at T-Mobile Arena on Friday night.

This situation is exactly why he’s here. This is the moment Pete DeBoer sold the Golden Knights on and now he must once again deliver. He must deliver off the ice in preparing his team to be at their best, and he must deliver on the ice with the right answer to every question posed above.

It is unacceptable for this team to lose in the 1st Round, as it was in 2019 when they were robbed against the San Jose Sharks. A lot has happened since then, a lot that was supposed to make the Golden Knights better. The time has come to prove they are better. Win and move on. Lose and the house of cards collapses.

Welcome to Game 7. They hired the savior, now he must save them.

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.

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Vegas’ Salary Cap Management A Topic Around The League

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It hadn’t happened in 11 years, and it probably won’t happen for 11 more. The Golden Knights’ decision to only dress 15 skaters on Monday night in a critical game against the Colorado Avalanche was a bit of a shock. General Manager Kelly McCrimmon explained the situation and pointed towards unexpected injuries to several players at the same time. This left the organization without enough cap space to call up a player in time for Monday’s game. However, the explanation didn’t sit well with some in the hockey world.

Immediately after McCrimmon’s last minute Zoom conference, TSN’s Frank Seravalli challenged Vegas’ reasoning.

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