The Vegas Golden Knights began their 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs run as the No. 2 seed in the Honda West Division. They are facing off against the Minnesota Wild, who have seemed to have the Golden Knights’ number throughout the year. Entering Sunday’s Game 1, the Wild were the only team to have a winning record against Vegas in the regular season. Unfortunately for the Golden Knights, their struggles against Minnesota continued with a 1-0 loss.
Despite recording the loss, Marc-Andre Fleury played an amazing game. He stopped 29 out of 30 shots with the only goal coming off a defensive zone turnover in overtime. Throughout the game, he was ready. With trademark desperation saves and glove flashes, Fleury proved that he is still one of the best goalies in the league.
Fleury’s play comes as no shock as, during the regular season, he was playing at a Vezina-caliber level. There were many times in the game where he saved Vegas’ chances of potentially winning the game. Some key moments included multiple breakaway saves, flashy glove saves and controlling rebounds.
Fleury’s impressive outing now brings forth some more questions for head coach Peter DeBoer. Although he has not said anything about having a true starter for the playoffs, Fleury has certainly played his hand. The loss, however, could cause DeBoer to play his other goaltender, Robin Lehner, in an attempt to motivate his team. During the 2020 playoffs, Lehner was one of the best goalies in the bubble and recorded an impressive four shutouts. Fortunately for the Golden Knights, there appears to be no drama over who gets to defend the crease during this Stanley Cup push.
Throughout the regular season, the Golden Knights’ fourth line saw its fair share of criticism. They did not have the same level of dominance as they did during the 2020 playoff run. This saw them go from starting and finishing games, to becoming the weak link of the team. However, this game changed that outlook on them.
With a returning Ryan Reaves, the fourth-line seemed like it regained its spark. The trio of William Carrier, Keegan Kolesar and Reaves started the game with their foot of the gas. Right out of the gate, they had pressure on the Wild’s defense and were creating turnovers and scoring chances. They were able to keep this consistent level of pressure throughout the game as the line combined for 25 hits. With their performance, it might be safe to say that they will be the opening line for Game 2.
Entering Game 1, there were questions of whether or not Max Pacioretty would be an option for the Golden Knights. He was the team’s leading goalscorer during the regular season and an important part of the offense. His absence was definitely felt as Vegas did not score a single goal during the contest, despite producing 42 shots on goal.
Instead, the Golden Knights had to look more to their depth to produce offense. It was clear from the start that the whole team was going to need to produce in order to knock off the Wild. Without their leading goalscorer, Vegas needed to take control of the opportunities the Wild gave them, especially with the man advantage. However, the Golden Knights’ power play is slumping without Pacioretty. During his absence, Vegas has converted on only 2 out of 20 chances. This is shocking as the Golden Knights have a strong pool of skilled depth players.
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If they want to have a chance in this series, they will need to find a way to convert without Pacioretty. Although only one game has been played, this series has the same feeling as the Western Conference Final matchup against the Dallas Stars in 2020. In that series, the Golden Knights seemed to dominate play in the offensive zone, but could not find a way to convert. They were also without Pacioretty for that series as well.
Overall, the Golden Knights find themselves down in the series with the Wild after a thrilling first game. The team will need to regroup and not let this loss affect their mindset heading into Game 2. There is still a lot of hockey left to be played, and the series is far from over.
I am a former Jr. A hockey player that is currently attending school at San Diego State University. At SDSU, I study Journalism and Public Relations while also playing on the school’s rugby team. Hockey has been a big part of my life, as I have been playing since I was three years old. Other than hockey, I enjoy watching and playing all kinds of sports.