Golden Knights vs. Canucks playoff preview

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No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs No. 5 Vancouver Canucks

Golden Knights: 4-1 to win Western Conference First Round against No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks; 3-0-0 (six points) in Qualifiers round-robin; 39-24-8, .606 points percentage in regular season

Canucks: 4-2 to win Western Conference First Round against No. 4 St. Louis Blues; 3-1 to win Qualifiers against No. 10 Minnesota Wild; 36-27-6, .565 points percentage in regular season

Season series: VGK 1-0-1; VAN 1-1-0

Game 1 is Sunday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS)

The Vegas Golden Knights and the Vancouver Canucks meet for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when they open their Western Conference Second Round on Sunday. 

Vegas, the top seed after going 3-0-0 in the round-robin portion of the Qualifiers, defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in five games to advance on Tuesday. Vancouver, the fifth seed, eliminated the fourth-seeded St. Louis Blues, who won the Stanley Cup last year, in Game 6 on Friday.

“We still got a lot of ways to go before anyone is satisfied but it sure is a good feeling right now and it’s a stepping stone but we need to take a couple more steps,” Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom said.

Markstrom has been the backbone for the Canucks, playing in each of the 10 postseason games with a 2.44 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage.

The Canucks have been paced by their emerging core. Forward Elias Pettersson leads Vancouver with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) and defenseman Quinn Hughes leads all rookies with 10 points (one goal, nine assists) in the postseason. The 20-year-old is one of three finalists for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the best rookie in the regular season. Pettersson won the Calder Trophy last season.

Video: STL@VAN, Gm3: Pettersson goes bar down to tie game

Vegas reached the Stanley Cup Final two seasons ago in its first NHL season, losing to the Washington Capitals in five games. Thirteen Golden Knights players who dressed in that Game 5 remain on the roster.

The Golden Knights have three multigoal comebacks among their seven wins this postseason. The 1943 Boston Bruins and the Minnesota North Stars (1968, 1985) are the other teams in NHL history to have three such wins in their first eight games in a playoff season.

“You need your core players to step up if you’re going to get to this point of the year in the playoffs,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “Your best players have to be your best players and I thought that was the case (in Game 5 against Chicago). “I think we found a way to overcome some adversity.”

Forwards Mark Stone (four goals, four assists), Reilly Smith (three goals, five assists) and Jonathan Marchessault (two goals, five assists) have driven an offense that has averaged 3.75 goals per game.

Robin Lehner, who was acquired in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 24, has assumed the No. 1 goalie duties from Marc-Andre Fleury, who had been the face of the franchise since being selected in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Lehner is 5-1-0 with a 2.44 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage in six postseason starts.

Vegas won each of the two 2019-20 regular-season games against Vancouver, scoring 10 goals. Vancouver believes it is better prepared for the top seed after getting past the defending Cup champion Blues.

“I think they’re a lot like St. Louis, they’re a veteran team and they come to the rink every day,” forward Brock Boeser said of the Golden Knights. “They know the style of play that they want to play, and they work extremely hard. Regardless, we got to make sure that we come to the rink and keep brining that determination and that work ethic and I think we’ll be fine.”

The Canucks are in the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Vegas has made the postseason in each of its first three seasons.

 

Game breakers

Golden Knights: Reilly Smith has 49 points (17 goals, 32 assists) in 53 NHL postseason games, including 36 (nine goals, 27 assists) in 35 games with Vegas. He scored his first overtime goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a 4-3 win in Game 2 against Chicago. “[Smith] was great before the [pause], but I think he’s come back with a lot of confidence, a lot of energy. He’s really driving a lot of plays and important plays,” DeBoer said. 

Canucks: Pettersson had nine points (three goals, six assists) against the Blues, including five (two goals, three assists) on the power play. Pettersson has a point in eight of 10 games and is plus-6. “His overall game has been unreal,” forward Jay Beagle said. “What makes him special is his compete. When a skilled player competes hard like that and works hard, he becomes almost unstoppable.”

Video: CHI@VGK, Gm2: Smith nets one-timer for OT winner

 

Goaltending

Golden Knights: Lehner and Fleury each contributed in the victory against the Blackhawks. Lehner was 3-1 with a 2.20 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in four games (all starts) and Fleury made 26 saves on 27 shots (.963 save percentage) in a 2-1 win in his only appearance of the series in Game 3. Lehner has played 16 NHL postseason games. He played two of the three round-robin games, winning each and saving on 56 of 62 shots (.903 save percentage). 

Canucks: Markstrom has played every minute for the Canucks this postseason and is tied for the NHL lead with seven wins. Although he allowed three goals in four of the six games against the Blues, he also made some spectacular saves. “I don’t know if we’re in that spot without [Markstrom],” defenseman Troy Stecher said. “It’s absolutely mind-boggling to me that he wasn’t a Vezina [Trophy] candidate. But we’re very thankful have him on our team.”

 

Numbers to know

Golden Knights: Vegas has outscored the opposition 13-3 in the third period and overtime in eight postseason games, including 4-2 against the Blackhawks.

Canucks: Hughes is the fourth rookie defenseman with at least 10 points in 10 games or fewer. … Vancouver is 11-for-42 (26.2 percent) on the power play and has scored at least one goal with the man-advantage in seven of 10 games. … Four skaters have at least four goals (Bo Horvat, six; J.T. Miller, five; Pettersson and Tyler Motte, four each). 

 

X-factors

Golden Knights: Forward Alex Tuch scored his first goal of the first round, the game-winner 1:34 into the third period of a 4-3 win in Game 5 against the Blackhawks and has five points (four goals, one assist) in eight postseason games while playing on a checking line with center Nicolas Roy and Nick Cousins

Canucks: Boeser had four assists in the first two games against the Blues and was held without a point for the next three. However, he scored a power-play goal in Game 6, his first goal in seven games. Boeser has eight points (three goals, five assists) in the postseason with six power-play points. 

 

They said it

“There were 24 teams a couple weeks ago and we know we’re in the final eight so that’s a nice problem to have and hopefully it’ll guarantee that we go into next round healthy. We’ll have to manage it, but the nice thing is we can heal up bumps and bruises, plan some practices out and we have time to prepare for that next opponent.” — Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer on the four-day layoff before Game 1 against Vancouver

“It’s pretty easy — we’re playing for the Stanley Cup, it’s what you dream of as a kid. That’s what fuels you to keep going throughout the games. … If you remember the end goal then it’s pretty easy to get up.” — Canucks defenseman Troy Stecher on playing in the bubble

 

Will win if … 

Golden Knights: They continue to receive contributions from each line. The Golden Knights have 16 players with at least one goal; 12 forwards and four defensemen. Forward Max Pacioretty did not originally travel with Vegas to Edmonton, joining the team Aug. 9 after recovering from an injury. He had a goal and an assist in the series-clinching Game 5 against the Blackhawks, his fourth game of the postseason.

Canucks: They continue to be effective on the power play and get scoring from the bottom-six forwards. In Games 5 and 6 against the Blues, seven of the Canucks’ 10 goals were scored by depth forwards. Tyler Motte had four and Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel and Jake Virtanen each had one. 

 

Golden Knights projected lineup

Max PaciorettyWilliam KarlssonMark Stone

Jonathan MarchessaultPaul StastnyReilly Smith

Nick CousinsNicolas RoyAlex Tuch

William CarrierChandler StephensonRyan Reaves

Brayden McNabbNate Schmidt

Alec MartinezShea Theodore

Nick HoldenZach Whitecloud

Robin Lehner

Marc-Andre Fleury

Scratched: Dylan Coghlan, Oscar Dansk, Reid Duke, Deryk Engelland, Nicolas Hague, Keegan Kolesar, Peyton Krebs, Jon Merrill, Gage Quinney, Patrick Brown

Unfit to play: Tomas Nosek

 

Canucks projected lineup

J.T. MillerElias PetterssonBrock Boeser

Tanner PearsonBo HorvatLoui Eriksson

Antoine RousselAdam GaudetteBrandon Sutter

Tyler MotteJay BeagleJake Virtanen

Alexander EdlerTroy Stecher

Quinn HughesChristopher Tanev

Oscar FantenbergJordie Benn

Jacob Markstrom

Thatcher Demko

Scratched: Justin Bailey, Jalen Chatfield, Louis Domingue, Tyler Graovac, Olli Juolevi, Zack MacEwen, Brogan Rafferty

Unfit to play: Micheal Ferland, Josh Leivo, Tyler Myers, Tyler Toffoli

NHL.com staff writers David Satriano and Mike G. Morreale contributed to this report
 

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