Vezina Trophy candidate in net. Potential NHL MVP up front. Potential Norris Trophy winner on defense. Which team did I just describe – the Vegas Golden Knights or Colorado Avalanche?
I actually just repeated the NHL Awards nominations for the Colorado Avalanche. The nominees are Philipp Grubauer, Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar. Of course, Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was also nominated for the Vezina this year and Mark Stone received a nod for the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward. But coming into the series, the Avalanche were the clear darlings. Pre-season favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup. Superstars on the roster. Trendy, sexy and powerful.
Yet it was the Vegas Golden Knights who advanced in six games, even after getting blown out in Game One.
Tonight’s 6-3 win over the Avalanche featured the Golden Knights fourth line, with goals from Keegan Kolesar and William Carrier. Nick Holden had a huge goal, scoring to tie the game less than a minute after Colorado jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 23 seconds into the game.
The contributions don’t end there. Mattias Janmark had a pivotal hat trick to push the VGK past the Minnesota Wild in Game Seven. Nicolas Roy has assists in his last two games. The entire second line had a tremendous series, led by Jonathan Marchessault’s hat trick in Game four and his 5-2-7 overall in the series. William Karlsson had three goals and seven points in the series. Up and down the lineup, the Vegas Golden Knights were just better.
Let’s look at the Avalanche depth scoring in the series. Nazim Kadri didn’t even play due to suspension. Brandon Saad was the second-leading goal scorer on the team in the playoffs with seven goals, and he had four against the Golden Knights this series. Outside of that, the Avs only had one guy in the bottom eight forwards get to three goals the entire playoffs: Joonas Donskoi.
It’s not that the Golden Knights shut down the Avs top line every night. When you’re facing Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, you’re going to give up some chances. But by limiting the damage done by that top line, Vegas effectively said “go ahead, beat us with the rest of your roster” and Colorado couldn’t. They’re simply not deep enough, analytics be damned.
What Vegas has going for itself is a team that plays together. The guys in this room really enjoy being around one another. There’s a genuine feeling that not only do guys know their roles and play them to the hilt, but that when your chance comes because of injury or other issues, you seize it. The Golden Knights continue to do that every time out.