After a difficult opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Vegas Golden Knights find themselves moving on in the West Division after finally dispatching the Minnesota Wild. While of no surprise that the series took 7 games, this one was an incredibly difficult 4 games to win and for that, the Wild deserve a ton of credit.
Last night’s victory was the first game 7 series clincher on home ice for the Golden Knights and while Mattias Janmark got the place jumping early on, the game was tight until the early point of the second period. After the Wild tied the game for a second time following Nicolas Hague’s go-ahead goal, Max Pacioretty who returned to the lineup for the first time since the beginning of the month slammed home a one-timer in the slot to retake the lead. From that point, Vegas never surrendered with Zach Whitecloud padding the insurance and Mattias Janmark netting his first NHL hat trick – not a bad time to get one.
For Vegas, at one point up 3-1 in the series getting Pacioretty back in the lineup provided the spark and lineup anchor this team sorely needed. Minnesota never quit or backed down in the series and no matter how good Marc-Andre Fleury was in net, Vegas had it’s fair share of offensive struggles against Cam Talbot who stood tall particularly in game 6. After the way Minnesota has battled and been a thorn in Vegas’ side all season, it was of no real surprise that this one would go down to the wire. In the end, the lineup of Vegas was just too much to overcome no matter how much battle came from the other bench.
Now the eyes are set on the Colorado Avalanche. All season, this series has been on the radar and it was more a matter of what order the top 2 would finish in the West Division. For Colorado, they took the title and President’s Trophy via tie-breaker which earned them home-ice advantage. Both teams have had a dead even season splitting the 8 games with Colorado besting them via 1 regulation win. Each team is loaded with top talent with Colorado having a couple of the best players in the game overall. In net, again both teams have arguably the best goaltenders in the game.
This juggernaut matchup has all the scripts ready for a 7 game showdown and a classic to go down in the history books. The question for Vegas is can they hold the top players like Nathan MacKinnon down like they did Kiril Kaprisov and be more consistent in their own offensive production? While the thought of shutting down MacKinnon seems like an impossible task, Vegas will have to find a way to shut down any of the top guns on the Avalanche as the arsenal can be far too overwhelming. The speed and sheer skill of Colorado makes them a a threat in all areas of the ice. For Vegas, defensively they will have to make life tough in all of those areas and need Fleury to be stellar again in net. Having Pacioretty back in the lineup at least provides some solidity to the offenseive side of the puck and hope of more of what we saw in game 7 to be the norm. Either way, this series is going to be a blast and the only other series that can come close to matching the excitement is the Carolina vs. Tampa Bay battle.
4 down, 12 to go and the battle rages on starting Sunday.
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