The second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with an established force, the Vegas Golden Knights, taking on an up-and-coming contender, the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions, St. Louis Blues, in six games, winning their first playoff series since 2011 when they lost in seven games to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Going into the series, many expected the Blues to handle the inexperienced Canucks with physical defense and experience. The series win over the Blues saw three streaks of back-to-back wins. Games one and two saw the Canucks win both, jumping out to a 2-0 series lead. The predictions of the Blues handling the series started to look correct as the Blues won games three and four.
The pressure was on the Canucks for games five and six and the young core delivered. They held off the Blues 4-3 after scoring three goals in the second period. The Canucks slammed the door shut on the Blues’ title defense hopes in Game 6 by jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the first two periods. They held on to win 6-2.
The young Canucks have proven to be dynamic and resilient despite their inexperience. They remind me of the 2017-18 Winnipeg Jets, who made an unexpected run in the playoffs with a young and mostly inexperienced core (both defeated the Minnesota Wild in their first series too).
Leading the way for the Canucks this postseason has been 21-year old center Elias Pettersson with 13 points (four goals and nine assists). While he has made the biggest impact on the points sheet, Quinn Hughes has been just as vital to the Canucks’ attack, providing nine assists. The most veteran main contributor has been former New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning center J.T. Miller, who has chipped in five goals and five assists.
All this playmaking would not be as effective if not for winger Bo Horvat, who is tied for the most goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs so far with six. Their offense has clicked well as they are tied with the Colorado Avalanche for most goals scored this postseason so far.
Beating the Blues was impressive. However, they now must face the top-seeded Golden Knights. Vegas has been arguably the most impressive team so far this postseason, sweeping their other top-four competitors in the round-robin tournament to win the top seed in the Western Conference. They faced the dangerous and veteran-led Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, eliminating them in five games. It took Blackhawks’ goaltender Corey Crawford saving 48 shots to pull out a Game 4 victory for Chicago.
When comparing the team stats for Vegas against the rest of the field, few stand out except for being second behind the Avalanche in goals for per games played (GF/GP) with 3.75 and are fourth in total goals scored with 30. However, what truly stands out about this team is something the stat sheet cannot express, their puck movement. Their fluid passing and puck movement are among the best seen this postseason. They made the defense of the Blackhawks look lost frequently and the offense left no doubt who the better team was in that series.
Mark Stone is the engine that ignites the machine of the offense. He sets up his team perfectly with his precision passing along with scoring four goals himself. Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore have also chipped in with four goals.
This series looks to be a high-octane battle as both teams love to play with tempo. The Canucks will hang in there, pick up two wins, but in the end, the Golden Knights are too good and will advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Prediction: Golden Knights in 6