Las Vegas Golden Knight (Pacific – 1) vs LA Kings (Wildcard – 1)
At the start of the year, no one would have predicted Vegas to compete in the season-series against the Kings, let alone any season-series. They did just that and more, splitting two out of four games with LA during the 2017-18 season.
William Karlsson scored twice in the first period to help lead the Golden Knights to a 4-2 win. Cody Eakin would also score for Vegas in the first to open up an early 3-0 lead. Third-string goalie Maxime Lagace made 27 saves on 29 shots to help solidify an even more unbelievable victory.
Vegas won the second game of the series in OT by a score of 3-2. The Knights set an expansion team record with its 10-0-1 start to the season which was added to with David Perron’s goal with a minute and a half left in OT.
The Kings exacted some revenge a few months later with a 3-2 win of their own in overtime. LA found themselves down 2-0 late in the third period until Jeff Carter scored with just under eight minutes left. With 10 seconds left in the game Kings captain, Anze Kopitar scored to send it to OT where Dustin Brown scored a powerplay goal to win it for the Kings. Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Jonathan Quick had outstanding games with Fleury making 41 saves on 44 shots, and Quick 37 saves on 39 shots.
The story behind LA’s second win of the series was a goaltender who had one prior NHL start. Jack Campbell. Campbell made 41 saves on 42 shots as Kyle Clifford, Tyler Toffoli, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter all scored unanswered goals, sending the Kings to a 4-1 victory and a split of the season series.
Las Vegas Golden Knights – 51-24-7
What can we say about the expansion Golden Knights? Wow? Amazing? Outstanding? More like all of the above. Vegas broke pretty much every record that has been set by an expansion team.
Vegas shocked and surprised the world working their way to a Pacific Division title with 109 points (51-24-7) on the year. They did it with a group of players many thought to be misfits and rejects left unprotected in the expansion draft.
Leading the way for the Knights has been William Karlsson. The former Jacket who was selected by Vegas in the expansion draft put up astronomical numbers compared to his first three years in the NHL, finishing with 78 points (43G-35A) and a +49 on the year. Karlsson has been exactly what the Knights need in a first line centre.
The depth production the Knights have gotten out of players who were supposed to be scrub players until future talent could be built up has been staggering.
Jonathan Marchessault has earned every cent of his six-year $30 million contract extension that he signed in January. The former Panther put up 75 points on the year (27G-48A) in 77 games. He has dealt with an undisclosed injury but is expected to return for the playoffs.
The depth does not end with Marchessault. David Perron (66 points), Reilly Smith (60 points), Erik Haula (55 points) and James Neal (44 points) have all contributed the Golden Knight’s unexpected success.
Vegas has also enjoyed considerable play defensively from Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore and Deryk Engelland, with the Knights finishing in 7th place in shots against per game at a 30.7 average.
The depth for Vegas was tested early with them suffering an unusual amount of injuries to their goaltenders. The Knights have had four goaltenders start games for them.
Marc-Andre Fleury put up numbers in the top 10 with an SV% of .927 and a GAA of 2.24 in 46 games started this year. Malcolm Subban filled in nicely with Fleury down, picking up 13 wins and an SV% of .910 and a GAA of 2.68. Maxime Lagace and Oscar Dansk started a combined 17 games in between the rash of injuries suffered by Vegas net-minders.
Vegas landed in the top five in goals for per game (3.27) and the top 10 in goals against (2.74).
The Vegas Golden Knights have become one of the best success stories in sports. It’s almost impossible not to root for this team to go deep into the playoffs.
For me, however, it feels like at some point something is going to change with this team. I feel like they could win a round or maybe even two, but they split the season series with the Kings. LA is a more experienced playoff team, and I smell an upset in the first round.
Los Angeles Kings – 45-29-8
After missing the playoffs last year, the Los Angeles Kings ended the 2017-18 season with 98 points (45-29-8). LA gave up the fewest goals this season with a goal against per-game average of 2.46.
In turn with their great defence, the Kings had the best penalty kill in 2017-18 at 85%. They were 8th in the league in shot attempts against with a per game average of 31.
Captain Anze Kopitar is having the best statistical year of his 12-year career. Kopitar put up 92 points (35G-57A) this season. He’s also had the best face-off percentage (54.12%) of his career.
After Kopitar, the Kings next two top scorers are Dustin Brown (61 points) and Drew Doughty (60). Trailing their two veteran skaters, the Kings suffer a drop-off in production with the next scorer, Tyler Toffoli notching only 47 points.
The strongest piece to LA this year has been Jonathan Quick. The Kings netminder finished in 9th place in wins (33). The two-time Stanley Cup champion recorded his second best SV% of his career at .921%. Quick has seen 1867 shots this year, the 8th most in the NHL and has turned away all but 147 of them.
If the Kings are going to go on another run, it’s going to be on the back of Quick. They did make a splash by trading for Dion Phaneuf in an early deadline deal. Phaneuf is a big physical d-man that fits what LA does, but at his age, I’m not sure he would be the piece that helps them get over the hump.
LA split the season series with Vegas this year, and while I don’t see them going far in the playoffs, I think that their post-season experience mixed with having their first-round road games within proximity will allow for an upset.
My Prediction: Kings in 6 games.