The Vegas Golden Knights continue to defy the odds. Just months after playing their first game in franchise history, the Knights are now moving on to the Western Conference Finals. Granted, it took a supposedly rigged expansion draft to get them to this point, but this is still a momentous turn of events regardless!
The San Jose Sharks proved to be a menacing opponent for the Knights in the second round, taking them to six games and constantly pushing Vegas harder than any other team has during the 2017-18 season. In the end, though, the Knights rose to the occasion and took down their Pacific Division rival, putting them within eight wins of hoisting the Stanley Cup.
Let’s jump right in and go over some observations.
1. Fleury with another otherworldly performance
There’s no getting around it. Marc-Andre Fleury has not only been the best player on the Golden Knights since the start of the postseason, but he’s simply been the best player in general. No other active player is even in the same stratosphere as Fleury right now, and his performance in Game 6 just goes to show why he is one of the early favorites to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Fleury stopped all 28 San Jose shots Sunday night to earn his fourth shutout in just 10 playoff games. With an 8-2 record this postseason, he now owns a 1.53 goals against average and an absolutely ridiculous .951 save percentage. And he hasn’t done so without being challenged, either. Particularly against the Sharks, he’s faced an extremely high number of quality shots.
Fleury is spoiling Knights fans with his consistently dazzling postseason performances. It’s fair to question how long he’ll be able to keep it up, but for now, he’s on top of the hockey world, and it doesn’t appear he’s ready to come down anytime soon.
2. Vegas very lucky despite the win
Based on the score, you’d think the Golden Knights swept the floor with San Jose. But that simply isn’t the case. Despite the Knights winning the contest, Vegas had its back against the wall on numerous occasions as San Jose frantically looked to get something past Fleury. That never ended up happening, but the Sharks did come close quite a few times.
Had it not been for the post, San Jose very easily could have pounced on Vegas early.
At the end of the night, Vegas and San Jose finished even with 17 high-danger scoring chances, though at times it felt like a lopsided affair in favor of the Sharks, as San Jose did a fantastic job driving play at 5v5.
3. Reaves was pretty good!
The decision to insert Ryan Reaves into the lineup for Game 6 in place of the injured William Carrier was initially met with a great deal of skepticism. And for good reason. Reaves had been a healthy scratch all postseason and failed to make much of a positive impact for the Golden Knights during the regular season (just two assists in 21 games since being acquired at the trade deadline).
However, Reaves shut up the skeptics and put on one of his best performances of the season. He didn’t register any goals or assists, but finished the night with a 64.00 Corsi For percentage at 5v5; second-best only to Ryan Carpenter (65.38 CF% at 5v5).
Reaves also did a great job of sticking to his role as a physical disruptor without taking any penalties, which has been an issue throughout his career. He led the team with eight hits and was even on the ice for a team-high six HDCF at 5v5. Not bad for a guy who’s been out of the lineup all postseason.
4. Knights stay out of the box
Reaves wasn’t the only one who did a good job staying out of the box. The whole team did. Vegas was assessed only two penalties in Game 6, which was a series-low.
Vegas had the Sharks’ number for much of the series at 5v5 (51.55 CF%), but when San Jose went to the man advantage, things began to unravel. The Sharks finished the series with a 90.91 CF% on the power play (5.20 points higher than Vegas at 5v4) and scored over a third of their goals while Vegas was shorthanded. Staying disciplined had been an issue for Vegas earlier in the series, and it’s probably not a coincidence that the Knights took a combined 12 penalties in the two games they lost.
5. Say goodbye to home-ice advantage
The Golden Knights were lucky enough to play both the first and second round with the luxury of having four home games as opposed to just three. As it turned out, Vegas never ended up needing the extra home game, as both series ended at four and six games, respectively. In Round 3, though, Vegas will have to start the series off, regardless of whether it’s against the Winnipeg Jets or Nashville Predators, on the road.
The Golden Knights are 4-1 in the postseason when playing in another team’s arena, so clearly there are bigger things to worry about than the game’s venue. However, it’s still something to take note of.
As expected, Knights head coach Gerard Gallant is downplaying the challenge of starting Round 3 on the road.
George McPhee on the Golden Knights starting the Western Conference Finals on the road: "It may not be a bad thing to start on the road this time around, something a little different. ... Certainly happy to be here." #VegasBorn— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) May 7, 2018