The Vegas Golden Knights wanted the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference from the moment training camp began.
They got it, and as a result of their 4-3 overtime win over the Colorado Avalanche at Rogers Place on Sunday, the top-seeded Golden Knights will face the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“We’ve got a pretty good task against Chicago here,” said Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchesasult, who scored twice against Colorado. “They’ve been one of the best teams for the past 10 years.”
The Blackhawks found their way back to the field of 16 for the first time since 2017 by way of eliminating the No. 5 seed Edmonton Oilers in four games in the best-of-5 qualifying series.
Chicago still relies on the usual core that carried them to three Stanley Cup championships the past decade. Jonathan Toews had seven points (four goals, three assists) in four games; Patrick Kane was at a point per game, as was defenseman Duncan Keith.
But some new blood has played well at the right time for the Blackhawks. Calder finalist Dominik Kubalik had six points (three goals, three assists), with five of them coming in Game 1; last year’s third overall pick Kirby Dach has four goals, as well.
The goaltending situation also hasn’t changed a great deal. Corey Crawford has recovered from concussion issues and has reverted back to stellar form. He made 43 saves in Game 4, a 3-2 win for Chicago.
There will be one face that knows Vegas’ opposition well; goalie Robin Lehner, who was acquired in a deadline deal with Chicago on Feb. 24. Lehner, who made 32 saves in Saturday’s win, is 5-0-0 as the Golden Knights’ goalie and made a strong case to being the starter for Game 1 of their series over Marc-Andre Fleury.
“I don’t think like that. Every game I get to play, I’ll do my best,” Lehner said. “Marc is a world-class goaltender and one of the best in the league for a long time. I’m here whenever they need me.”
Coach Peter DeBoer said he hasn’t thought of Game 1 and who will be starting, but has long said given the uncertainty and unorthodox format of this year’s playoffs, Fleury and Lehner could be both utilized.
“We haven’t even thought about Game 1 yet. We’re just going to enjoy tonight,” Lehner said. “I believe we’re going to need both guys, and both guys are going to play. I can guarantee if we get to where we want to go, we’re going to be using both guys.”
If there was an opponent in the field that best suits Vegas as far as head-to-head, it would be the Blackhawks. The Golden Knights are 8-1-0 all-time against Chicago, but the first loss came on Nov. 13, a 5-3 decision at T-Mobile Arena.
“It’s going to be fun playing them,” Lehner said. “They’re a good team and I have a lot of respect for them. I really like it here. I think we’re a great hockey team, and I think we’ll do well against them.”