It’s the playoffs and you know what that means: the Vegas Golden Knights will face the Los Angeles Kings in the first round.
Game One comes to fruition on Wednesday in Vegas.
The Golden Knights have surprised nearly everyone with their debut season and clinched a playoff berth, marking the first time any “traditional” expansion team in the NHL has done so. Not only that, Vegas has home ice advantage against the Kings in the first round.
On paper, this is tricky.
Los Angeles is top-loaded with playoff veterans and ready for a measure of redemption against the post-season itself. They didn’t even make extra innings in two of the last three seasons after winning it all two of the previous three tries. That’s an awfully big tumble.
This series puts one of the league’s most proficiently offensive clubs against one of the league’s most difficult defensive squads, which is usually a recipe for a stalemate. The Kings are first in goals-against per game at a stingy 2.463, while the Golden Knights are fifth in goals for per game with 3.268.
Unsurprisingly, Los Angeles has the best penalty kill in the NHL.
So, what happens when the unstoppable force of Vegas’ William Karlsson-led offence meets the immovable object of the Kings’ defence? Playoff hockey.
The teams ran a dead heat in their season series, but things tend to take a ride in one direction or another in the post-season. That could mean the Kings’ experience advantage bears fruit and puts an end to the Cinderella season in Nevada. Or it could mean Los Angeles struggles against the upstarts and the underdogs and the never-should-haves.
Whatever the case, this should be a hot series.
The Kings have opened things up under new bench boss John Stevens and that’s meant a dip in the possession hockey that drove them over the past few years. They’re still third overall in hits, however, and own top-half penalty minutes. They’ve got grit aplenty, which is what you kind of want in the playoffs.
And Anze Kopitar is back playing well again, too. That spells trouble for the Golden Knights and it spells opportunity for Dustin Brown, who’s seen his numbers rise once more. Consider too that Jeff Carter has 13 goals in his last 20 games and you’ve got Los Angeles on the board.
Everyone knows Vegas and Karlsson can score, but where things get interesting is in goal. Marc-Andre Fleury has been solid-to-excellent during the regular season, but his playoff performance has dogged him (whether for good reason or not). He’ll want to close the door on that chapter this go-around.
Jonathan Quick, meanwhile, is having his second-best season ever. Just to, you know, put things in perspective.
So where does that leave us?
If the Kings can put themselves back in post-season form and play dominant, physical hockey with a possession edge, they’ll end Vegas’ hopes for playoff glory. But seriously, what’s gone according to plan this year for the Golden Knights? Anything can and probably will happen in the season’s best storybook and that could mean this one goes the distance, just because.