It’ll be another first as the Vegas Golden Knights face the Minnesota Wild in the opening round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
These two teams have never met in the post-season before, even as Vegas has made the dance in each of its first four seasons in the NHL. The Wild have been in it to win it for eight of the last nine seasons, but in their last four bids they haven’t been able to escape the first round. They’ll be hoping to change that against a well-stacked Golden Knights squadron.
Vegas finds itself tied in points with the Colorado Avalanche, who secured the Presidents’ Trophy due to having more regulation wins.
But the Wild have owned the season series 5-1-2, a little detail that provides some interesting context for this series.
24-year-old Kirill Kaprizov is a big part of this picture for Minnesota. The Russian had 51 points in 55 games in his debut season, including 27 goals and 24 assists. He scored eight power play goals, leading all rookies, and he likes to play against the Golden Knights. Kaprizov has six goals against his first round foes.
Containing the Novokuznetsk native will be an issue for Vegas and they’ve had trouble with Minnesota as a whole this season. The Wild clocked more wins and points against the Golden Knights than any other opponent this regular season and Vegas hasn’t been able to win in regulation at the Xcel Energy Center.
Is that the kind of thing that could get in the head of the Golden Knights? You can…bet on it.
Vegas knows the Minnesota offence can strike quick and often, but they’ve got weapons – starting with Mark Stone. The 29-year-old had 61 points in 55 games this season, including 21 goals. He put together 10 points against the Wild.
Max Pacioretty is second in team scoring for Vegas with 51 points in 48 games, while Jonathan Marchessault is third with 44 points in 55 games.
Vegas averaged 3.39 goals for per game in the regular season, while Minnesota averaged 3.21.
Both teams struggled on the power play, at least compared to other playoff-bound clubs. Vegas did deliver with a quality penalty kill at 86.8 percent, but their 17.8 percent power play made them the third-lowest of all post-season teams. Minnesota was slightly worse with the extra attacker, posting a 17.6 percent power play.
Minnesota’s goaltending comes into focus with Cam Talbot. The 33-year-old accumulated 19 wins in 33 starts, with a 2.63 goals against average and a .915 save percentage. Those numbers are about on par with his career average, but that’s where the rookie Kaapo Kahkonen could make a difference. The 24-year-old had two starts against Vegas and won them both. Both goalies struggled this season, however, and consistency is a big issue. Talbot allowed two dozen goals in his last six games.
Vegas’ tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner will be back at it. Lehner took the lead in the post-season last year, but Fleury has the net again now. The 36-year-old won 26 of 36 starts and posted a goals against average of 1.98 with a .928 save percentage. Lehner won 13 of 19 starts, with a 2.29 goals against average and a .913 save percentage.
Vegas has the edge in goaltending and that could swing the series, but don’t count Minnesota out. They have several game-breakers in the lineup against the Golden Knights, including Kaprizov and Marcus Foligno. The latter picked up seven points in six games against Vegas and could give them a hangover or two.
Still, if the State of Hockey can’t keep things up to par in net and stick the landing, this could be a short series against one of the league’s best.
Pic: John Locher/USA Today/Pool Photos