It sure feels like it is on the way. Not the Super Bowl, not the F1 race with dozens of private jets and European billionaires flashing wads of cash that make the high-stakes rooms at Caesars blush. Those things will arrive in due time, but first, it sure looks like the Vegas Golden Knights and fans will get a chance to party with the Stanley Cup.
The Vegas Golden Knights have overwhelmed the Florida Panthers. Coach Bruce Cassidy declined to use that word because it was too dramatic, but it’s happening. The Golden Knights have outscored the Panthers 12-4. Unless something significant changes, they will win the Stanley Cup. The avalanche of destiny and momentum is palpable.
It would take herculean efforts by Matthew Tkachuk or Sergei Bobrovsky to halt the years of momentum and coalescence of destiny the hockey gods have granted the Golden Knights. There is unfinished business, and the Golden Knights are marching.
“We know we have them,” said Jonathan Marchessault after Game 2.
Vegas is entertainment, but there ain’t no party like a Stanley Cup party.
1. The Golden Knights’ Depth
At this point, Cassidy could hand out cue cards with his answers about the club’s extraordinary depth. It seems a new reporter asks about it daily. A fourth line with Nic Roy, Keegan Kolesar, and William Carrier is an embarrassment of riches.
They check all four boxes, whereas most teams check one or maybe two. The line has near-perfect defensive acumen. They’re fast. They are physical. And if that wasn’t quite enough, they can score.
At worst, the line can get the puck into the offensive zone, allowing Jack Eichel’s top line over the boards with offensive zone pressure.
Plenty of teams would happily take that as their third line.
2. Cracking Bob
The Golden Knights did it. They did what (in reverse order) the Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Boston Bruins could not. Getting 10 days between the Conference Final and the start of the Stanley Cup didn’t help, but Bobrovsky was not the first goalie tasked with resuming his stellar play.
What should concern the Panthers but hearten the Golden Knights was that Bobrovsky played worse in Game 2 than in Game 1.
“You want to take advantage (of power plays). That helps you get the next (goal). And now maybe the goaltender has some doubt in his mind,” Cassidy said. “The goaltender (Bobrosvky) has been very, very good, and it’s all about creating some doubt for them because they’ve been the story of the playoffs.”
The Golden Knights are overwhelming the Florida Panthers. Rolling four lines is often a benefit, but the reasons aren’t necessarily enumerated. In addition to the potential for constant pressure, the Golden Knights have four lines that can arrest momentum away from the Panthers, preventing Florida from achieving sustained pressure.
The offensive waves from the Golden Knights in the first two games were significant. The numbers are skewed because the Golden Knights led 4-0 early in the second period and merely needed to hold onto the game; they didn’t attack or play the same way. When the game was competitive, the Golden Knights had a higher xGF (.48) than Florida’s (.42).
The close expected-goals combined with the Florida push later in the second and third periods point to cracking Bobrovsky and the extraordinary finish by the VGK.
4. Finish Them
The Golden Knights are converting their chances: seven goals and eight high-danger chances. Marchessault has 10 goals in nine games.
That’s good and bad news. Hot streaks have an end. Teams don’t convert at that rate for long.
Golden Knights goalie Adin Hill has been extraordinary, too. If he must continue to face the number of high-danger chances he faced in Game 2, the Panthers have a chance to get back in the series.
We’ve seen the Golden Knights overcome teams that peppered them with high-danger chances. The Golden Knights’ shot-blocking prowess and their ability to control the puck in the low zones can blunt attacks and create pushback, but the hot streak is at least something to pay attention.
And Hill is in the zone.
For both, as fast as it comes, it can go.
The Golden Knights must keep finishing but also finish the Panthers while they can. It would behoove them to learn the lessons from the Western Conference Final and not let a team hang around.
I also have a real sense they did learn that lesson. This isn’t about playing for the Cup and relaxing (as it was in the WCF) but about winning the Cup. The fourth win is a different animal because of the excitement to get that last win, but the level of desperation to avoid it is extreme.