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Golden Knights Analysis

Golden Knights Big Chance; Jack Eichel is the Path Forward



Jack Eichel, Vegas Golden Knights

The Vegas Golden Knights have a chance. Leading their Round Two series 2-1, they have a chance to vanquish the unbelievably talented Edmonton Oilers. They have a chance to advance to the Western Conference Final, where their opponent will be an inferior team, and they have a chance to finish the job they nearly completed in 2018 and hoist 44 pounds of silver.

A chance, that’s all it is, but it’s a real chance that blossomed Monday with a resounding win incorporating everything a team could hope to do against Edmonton.

And if that chance is to flower into more than a single win, Jack Eichel is the player on whom the most responsibility rests.

No. 1 centers win Stanley Cups. Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Nathan MacKinnon. The top dog doesn’t need to be a Hall of Fame superstar, but the top-line center does need to occasionally carry his team. The first line has to win a few games, elevate the team, and occasionally demoralize the other team with a big goal.

Jack Eichel did that in Game 3.

His defensive work created the backbreaking goal.

His assists spotted the Golden Knights with a solid lead.

His play was that of a No. 1 center.

“Well, he’s good in the D-zone, and I thought a lot of his best work (in Game 3) came from his work in the D-zone closing off plays and then beating their backcheck/reloads up the ice,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “And now he gets in space off the rush. They can’t hold the blue line because he’s dangerous.

“And what also helped us as wingers went to the net for him.”

After years of toiling in the never-ending rebuild of Buffalo Sabers, in the shadow of Connor McDavid, Eichel didn’t have the best reputation in hockey circles. Perhaps he wasn’t the right leader for Buffalo, and the bleak situation didn’t bring out the best in him.

That has changed.

This season, Eichel overcame his back injuries and played a nearly full season. In 67 games, the center had 66 points (27-39-66), returning to his peak production levels.

And a number-one center who is good in the defensive zone is worth their weight in Vegas gold.

Recent chatter in those same hockey circles who quietly criticized Eichel in past years, away from the media and behind closed doors, has recently flung praise far and wide on the maturing center.

At 26 years old, this is his chance to shine. While the general hockey public anxiously awaits the McDavid coronation as one of the best ever, Eichel has a chance — just a chance at this moment — to cancel that coronation and grab the spotlight for himself in a hockey-mad city famous for bright lights.

Round One was Eichel’s first playoff exposure. He netted a few goals, including a power play goal, but the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are a different animal. The game is different, the speed is increased, and the intensity is incomparable to anything experienced in the regular season.

Sure, it took a little adjustment.

But Eichel showed big-time player bonafides by producing his best game in the biggest moment. The Vegas Golden Knights survived Game 1 but were rocked in Game 2.

Winger Mark Stone barely spoke above a whisper. Nor did others, including Brayden McNabb. The loss felt like a Rocky guy punch, and it raised legitimate questions if the Golden Knights could stay in the series.

And so, with a raucous crowd willing their team forward, their star to take the next step toward the pantheon of hockey immortality, Jack Eichel pushed the pause button on all of it.

If Edmonton won Game 3, the series could have been essentially over, the Golden Knights a dead-man walking.

Instead, the Vegas Golden Knights and Jack Eichel have a chance to push Edmonton to the brink of elimination. Instead of dead-man walking, they showed how to defend McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. And it is the Golden Knights with an opportunity for a commanding lead.

The VGK will need more of the same in Game 4 and beyond, but that seems entirely possible. The path to the conference final and Stanley Cup has a name. It’s Jack Eichel.

Not bad for the No.2 pick and a playoff rookie.

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