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Vegas Golden Knights

Golden Knights Are Making A Different Playoff Climb



Vegas Golden Knights bottom-six, William Karlsson, Nic Roy

Seeing the Vegas Golden Knights in a playoff wild card position is like coming across a Lamborghini on a used car lot. Something is wrong with that picture.

The Dallas Stars say the Golden Knights are better than the standings suggest. They don’t see them as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, but rather the defending Stanley Cup champion and the team that eliminated Dallas from the playoffs last season.

All of those facts are true. Injuries, resulting in 460 man games lost, and other factors led to a disappointing Vegas regular-season. But the Golden Knights’ status as the reigning champion only matters if they bolt from the starting gate at a full gallop.

Here is what needs to happen if the Golden Knights want to have a decent chance to become the ninth franchise to win back-to-back Stanley Cups:

Replacement Value

With the additions of Tomas Hertl, Noah Hanifin and Anthony Mantha before the NHL trade deadline, you can certainly make an argument that Vegas has the potential to be better than it was a year ago.

But the newcomers will have to prove it on the ice. Tomas Hertl hasn’t played in the postseason since 2019, but that season he did put up 10 goals and 15 points in 19 games for the Sharks. The 27-year-old Hanifin has 27 games of NHL playoff experience. More importantly, his two-way playing style should fortify the Vegas defense. His arrival has freshened up the Vegas defensive corps.

Mantha only has 11 games of NHL postseason experience and has never scored an NHL playoff goal. But his game came together this season with a 23-goal season output. There’s reason to believe he can bolster the Golden Knights’ secondary scoring in the postseason.

Hill Returns as Mr .932

Adin Hill has a noteworthy .910 career save percentage. But he took his game to a higher level in the 2023 playoffs, posting a .932 save percentage and 2.17 goals-against average to help the Golden Knights win their first Stanley Cup.

This season, he is among the many Golden Knights who have been bothered by multiple injuries. His regular-season numbers were below his career average. Can he be the elite difference-maker he was last spring? If he can’t, Logan Thompson gives Vegas another option.

Wellness Check

Mark Stone’s return to the lineup after recovering from a lacerated spleen is the important variable of the Vegas postseason.  He is this team’s flag carrier. He leads the charge. In last season’s drive to the Cup, Stone had 11 goals and 24 points in 22 games. In 68 career playoff games with Vegas, Stone boasts 29 goals and 61 points.

The Golden Knights haven’t provided any update on when Stone will be ready, but he is practicing in a non-contact jersey.

Alex Pietrangelo hasn’t played since April 2 and is expected to be ready to play in the first round. They need him. He’s their best defender.  You can’t beat a well-rounded team like Dallas without your No. 1 defenseman.

Left wing William Carrier also is practicing wearing a non-contact jersey. He will soon be available.

Full Boat

As the Golden Knights proved last season, you need everyone on the oars to win the Cup. The Golden Knights had so many contributors last spring it can be hard to remember that Jonathan Marchessault won the Conn Smythe after leading Vegas with 13 goals. Jack Eichel led the team with 26 points in the post season.

But the Golden Knights’ strength was scoring by committee. They had four scorers with 20 or more points (Eichel, Marchessault, Stone and Chandler Stephenson) and Ivan Barbashev and William Karlsson had 18 and 17 points, respectively.

With the additions of Hertl and Mantha, this team could end up being a high scoring machine.

Different climb

Trying to win as the No. 8 is more challenging than winning as the Western Conference’s top seed. That’s what Vegas did last season.

The biggest difference is the lack of home-ice advantage. That’s significant for the Golden Knights who were only 18-17-6. They are much stronger at home. The Vegas building can be intimidating for opponents.

The Golden Knights will need to adjust to this difference. It can certainly be done.