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‘Riding the Wave’: Golden Knights Getting Healthy, Primed for Edmonton

LAS VEGAS — It doesn't matter what happened in March. Just ask the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche, who were great regul…



LAS VEGAS — It doesn't matter what happened in March. Just ask the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche, who were great regular-season teams but were summarily dismissed by lesser seeds in Round One. Despite a spate of injuries and goaltending shuffles, the Vegas Golden Knights were surprisingly good in the regular season, but now they're also getting healthy. 

They won the Pacific Division with 111 points, but somehow they were one of the most overlooked teams in the league. Two points behind them were the Edmonton Oilers, and the two are set to battle again in Round Two. Game One is Wednesday. 

Edmonton won three of the four meetings this season, but it doesn't matter how you get here. What matters now is what comes next.

The Golden Knights' tone at practice Saturday spoke volumes to the optimism and momentum they earned by dusting the Winnipeg Jets in just five games. Smiles abounded. 

They're also getting a little rest to heal battered bodies and tired spirits that survived an 82-game NHL schedule. 

"Definitely enjoying it for sure," said winger Mark Stone. "I've been through some long playoff runs. You don't usually get this time off to heal the bodies and get ready for Round Two too often. We're going to use it to our advantage, hopefully."

Stone missed 39 games this season, primarily due to a back injury that lingered from mid-January through the end of the regular season. 

The season head-to-head record should concern the Golden Knights. Their only win was on March 25, an overtime battle in Edmonton. While the VGK can claim a 1-2-1 record, Edmonton's appears as 3-0-1. 

There won't be a 3v3 overtime in the playoffs. The Golden Knights need to beat Edmonton 5v5 a

"We've played these guys four times. We understand their strengths and weaknesses — both teams (do)," Stone said. 

Mentioning Edmonton's captain Connor McDavid had 153 points this season and so thoroughly dominated the NHL season that most oddsmakers took the Hart Trophy off the board seems perfunctory.

Edmonton has a lot of talent. Duh. Leon Draisaitl's playoff scoring pace mirrors that of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins reached the 100-point plateau this season. 

But that's old news. 

William Carrier also got healthy just in time. He played only 56 games this season and missed most of two months with a lower-body injury suffered on March 3. The Golden Knights grinder returned for Game 5 to ground the Winnipeg Jets. 

"(The team) isn't tired, but they've played a lot of hockey in the last (few months)," Carrier said. "(This) is the first time we get the full, healthy team, so it's nice to have. (We're) riding a big wave. The emotion everyone is riding is pretty high."

Carrier might be the biggest gift from the hockey gods. The Golden Knights' biggest advantage over Edmonton may be the deep bottom six that knows how to score goals and take the puck away from the opposition. 

Carrier is a premier "plugger." He was a whopping 261 hits in just 57 NHL playoff games. He also stays out of the penalty box, another key ingredient in beating Edmonton, whose power play clicked at over 32% this season. 

The extra few days off seem to perfectly benefit the Vegas Golden Knights as a few players transition from the trainer's table to game action. That big wave isn't just momentum but the exuberance of getting back in the lineup. 

"We have some guys coming back from injury that might need to skate, which is counterintuitive. Usually, guys are hurt and need the time off," coach Bruce Cassidy said. "We've got guys like Will Carrier, Mark Stone, who haven't practiced a lot. (Shea) Theodore missed a lot of time at the end. They might need more time (on the ice) than time off."

The Golden Knights resume practice Monday and Tuesday before Game 1 Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena. For the first time in months, it will be the healthy version of the Golden Knights lineup, and that seemed reason enough for everyone to be smiling. 

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