The Vegas Golden Knights are the odds favourites to win the Stanley Cup. First, of course, they have to get past the Vancouver Canucks on their way to a conference showdown. That won’t be easy.
The Canucks enter this second round series of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs with an impressive victory over the defending champion St. Louis Blues. The six game series was an arrival for the likes of Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, and Brock Boeser. They proved their mettle in the playoffs for the first time – and then some.
Pettersson has 13 points, leading all Canucks in scoring and producing nine points against the Blues, while Hughes leads all rookies with 10 points.
Then there was the captain, Bo Horvat. He emerged as the real deal in his first kick at the playoffs.
The Golden Knights are a deep team that plays a puck possession game. They’ve scored the most goals at even strength of any club remaining in the post-season, although the Canucks are second in the category. They’re also excellent at generating high-danger scoring chances, something that just so happens to be a weakness of this Vancouver squad.
Vegas’ unrelenting offence is a step up from what the Canucks have faced thus far in these playoffs, but that doesn’t mean Jacob Markstrom won’t be equal to the task. The netminder started all 10 games so far and has a 2.44 goals against average with a .929 save percentage. He’s tied for the NHL lead with seven wins.
The Golden Knights may have a goaltender controversy on their hands if Marc-Andre Fleury’s agent has a part to play in this. Apparently bothered by Robin Lehner getting most of the starts in the playoffs, Allan Walsh caused a hassle with a tweet. Fleury spoke with team officials and everything seems fine, but it’s not the sort of thing a club needs a day out from the next round.
Lehner has the start for Game One. He was 3-1 against Chicago, with a 2.20 goals against average and a .905 save percentage. Fleury played Game Three against the Blackhawks and posted a .963 save percentage, stopping all but one shot for a 2-1 win. He also played three round robin games.
If Vancouver can exploit this issue, alleged or otherwise, they can push things in the crease and get in Lehner’s kitchen early and often.
But taking on Vegas won’t be easy under any circumstances, even if there is some off-ice trouble brewing. The Golden Knights have a great two-way attack, boasting 16 players with at least a goal. Vanquishing that depth won’t be easy, but the Canucks might be able to push back with a little depth of their own.
Image: Darryl Dyck/CP