When the Golden Knights lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the conference finals last season it left a bitter taste in the mouths of the players and coaches. Go ahead and throw the fans in the mix as well, they were spitting out Bleu, Blanc, and Rouge all summer long. Clearly ending on a low note leaves plenty of room for motivation going into the next season. However, that goes for most teams in the NHL and especially one that lost in meltdown style.
No, I don’t need to (go back and watch the Vegas series). It was more of a mental thing than a physical thing for us and for me too. We got a little hesitant. –Nathan MacKinnon on 32 Thoughts Podcast
After the first two games of last season’s second round series, most Vegas fans feared the worst. Colorado looked to be the better team, were getting the lucky bounces and had won six playoff games in a row. With only two losses remaining before another season was cut short the Golden Knights woke up and stormed back to clinch the series in six games. It was by far the finest moment of Vegas’ 2021 season and one of the best in franchise history.
On the losing side of the handshake line, the Avalanche were shell-shocked. They believed their skill and speed would get them into the conference finals, especially when they were holding a two games to love lead. Learning now, Colorado wasn’t as comfortable as we may have thought after Game 2.
We beat them in Game 2 but they dominated us in the 2nd and 3rd. And I remember thinking like, oof. We were talking on the plane and our whole thing is the process, if you are good on the process, results will take care of themselves, and the process of that game was so bad, but we still won in OT. But it still felt like we shouldn’t have won that game and then in Games 3 and 4 they dominated us and we got hesitant. –MacKinnon on 32 Thoughts Podcast
One advantage Vegas held over Colorado in that six-game series was the physical element. The Golden Knights bumped, bruised, and pounded the Avalanche, even going as far as taking a suspension in Game 1. Either way, the intimidation factor worked and the President’s Trophy winners couldn’t match Vegas’ intensity.
We lost to their physicality. I think that’s my take from the series. –Mikko Rantanen to Colorado Hockey Now
Rantanen was on fire to start off the second round series against the Golden Knights. The All-Star winger scored in the first three games but his impact seemed to fade as the series went on. It’s possible Vegas’ aggressive nature distracted Colorado enough to lose their identity.
It will be interesting to see how physical play will factor in when the two contenders play this season. Vegas undoubtedly got less “tough” when they traded Ryan Reaves to Gerard Gallant’s NY Rangers. The Golden Knights’ front office isn’t concerned as they believe their group is still a physical team by way of their size.
We’re not the most physical team. We want to be aggressive and make plays and being confident and wanting the puck and no one really wanted the puck, no one wanted to make mistakes. So I’m hoping, well I’m not hoping, I know we will learn from that. When things get tough, teams are going to have good games and we need to know how to stop the bleeding a little bit quicker than that. –MacKinnon on 32 Thoughts Podcast
Even without Reaves the size and strength of the Golden Knights roster will make it difficult for any opponents in the playoffs. The question is will it be enough to intimidate Colorado for a second straight postseason?
I was trying to play the perfect game and not take any risks or anything and that’s not my game. –MacKinnon on 32 Thoughts Podcast
Losing to the Golden Knights is still fresh to MacKinnon and his teammates which can only help motivate them for the regular season, postseason and heck maybe even tonight. In reality, Vegas and Colorado are both highly motivated heading into the 2021-22 season. Their seasons ended with a loss and each are expected to go deep once again. They’re the head of class in the West and they expect to see each other in the playoffs again. If so, expect a wildly entertaining series.