Ladies and gentlemen, the Vegas Golden Knights are going to the Stanley Cup Final.
None of that is a typo. This is all factual. This is actually happening, and it’s just as awesome as we’d all expected it would be.
To get to this point, Vegas had to defeat the Winnipeg Jets one last time in front of the Winnipeg Whiteout Sunday afternoon. And they did just that, beating the Jets for the final time this season by a score of 2-1.
There’s plenty to unpack, so let’s jump right in and review a few things from Vegas’ series-clinching win.
1. First line continues to dominate
No one on Vegas’ top line registered a point Sunday afternoon — the first time the trio of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith had been held pointless all series.
But that’s not to say they didn’t make an impact.
Marchessault and Smith finished Game 5 with 5v5 Corsi For percentages of 60.00 and 58.62, respectively. Strangely enough, Karlsson had just an average performance (at least by his standards), recording a 5v5 Corsi For percentage of just 53.33, which, even for an average performance, is still quite good.
Though the first line failed to produce any points, Marchessault and Smith led the Golden Knights both in scoring chances at 5v5 (12) and in 5v5 SCF% (70.59). And even without looking at the advanced stats, it was clear that Vegas’ first line was getting the better of Winnipeg all afternoon, but Connor Hellebuyck was just outstanding in net, saving nearly everything Vegas threw at him.
Winnipeg’s defense was regarded as one of the best in the NHL this season, and the fact that Vegas’ top players shredded it the way they did in the conference final is as good a sign as any going into the main event.
2. Ryan Reaves is the greatest hockey player of all time
Okay, maybe not of all time. Definitely not of all time, actually. But Reaves had himself another fine performance Sunday afternoon. He even managed to score his first goal as a Golden Knight, and it just so happened to be the series-clincher.
Don’t look now, but Reaves currently has the second-highest Corsi For percentage at 5v5 of any active Golden Knights player this postseason (53.85). Not bad for a guy whose 46.65 5v5 CF% ranked as one of the worst on the Golden Knights’ roster during the regular season.
Even more impressive? Despite being widely regarded as a face-punching brute, Reaves has taken just one (1) penalty all postseason. Many (including some of us here at Knights on Ice) were less than thrilled about the acquisition of Reaves at the trade deadline largely due to the fact that he tends to take a large sum of penalties, but he’s been playing a physical and clean game in all of his appearances this postseason, and it’s actually been helping Vegas win games.
3. Fleury once again stellar in net
You’re probably not going to believe this, but Marc-Andre Fleury stood on his head again. Unlike the Kings and Sharks, though, the Jets were able to get something past Fleury in the final game of the series, though it certainly could have been negated by a better defensive play from Marchessault. Despite that one blemish on the stat sheet, however, Fleury stopped 31 of the Jets’ 32 shots on goal (and all six of their shots while on the man advantage).
Fleury now sports a .947 save percentage along with a 1.68 goals against average this postseason, which is, um, absolutely insane. No other goalie still active in the postseason is coming anywhere near those numbers (for comparison, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Braden Holtby sport 2.59 and 2.29 goals against averages, respectively).
What Fleury is doing right now is almost inconceivable. Especially for a 33-year-old. If Vegas ends up winning the Stanley Cup, it’s a virtual guarantee he will be the recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy.
4. Engelland touches Clarence S. Campbell Bowl
Speaking of trophies, by advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, the Golden Knights won the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl (awarded to the Western Conference champions, AKA the Golden Knights). That’s all well and good, but Deryk Engelland touched the trophy, which is apparently bad luck.
The last Western Conference team to win the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl and touch it was the 2004 Calgary Flames, which ended up losing to, ironically, the Tampa Bay Lightning, a potential opponent for Vegas, in the Stanley Cup Final.
But is it really bad luck? The Pittsburgh Penguins have touched the Prince of Wales Trophy in both of their last two Stanley Cup appearances, and we know what happened from there.
Maybe this whole superstition is actually just a silly thing that has absolutely no impact on the result of who wins the Stanley Cup (because it is). Yes, it’s a fun little thing to keep track of, but take it with a grain of salt.
5. Vegas’ biggest challenge still lies ahead
This obviously goes without saying, but regardless of who Vegas takes on in the Stanley Cup Final, it’ll be an absolute war from start to finish. The Lightning may be the deepest team in hockey and the Washington Capitals are loaded from head to toe with elite star power as well. Granted, Vegas has had no trouble playing up to the skill of its opponents all postseason, but the Cup Final is a whole different monster. This is for all the marbles, and it’ll be one hell of a heart attack-inducing ride.