Last season, the Vegas Golden Knights only lost three games in the first three rounds of the playoffs. They are hitting their stride at the right time again. Winners of nine of their last ten games, they have dominated since the trade deadline. The deadline acquisition of Mark Stone has been better than imagined as he has made a seamless transition, scoring four goals and four assists in 10 games with the organization.
The biggest thing a team needs to succeed in the postseason is goaltending; Marc-Andre Fleury is 6-0 in his last six starts, posting a 0.83 goals-against average and a .973 save percentage. With the playoffs set to start in just a few weeks, the Calgary Flames and the San Jose Sharks are not just battling to win the Pacific Division, but also for a chance to not play last season’s Clarence Campbell winner.
The Flames were the first Western Conference team to clinch a playoff spot and have led the Pacific Division for most of the season. However, with their recent skid and the Sharks playing very well, the two keep flip-flopping for first place every other day.
The Flames are a team led by one of the best lines in the league (Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan- Elias Lindholm) and potential Norris Trophy candidate Mark Giordano. Gaudreau leads the team with 35 goals and 92 points, while Lindholm and Monahan have 77 and 76 points, respectively. Giordano is having a career season with 68 points, 12 more than his previous best with nine games to go.
The biggest question in Calgary is goaltending. David Rittich only has 64 games of experience, none of which are playoff games, and Mike Smith has been on a roller coaster this season.
The Flames and Golden Knights tied their season series two games apiece. In the two Calgary victories, they blew Vegas away, but when the Golden Knights took home two points, the games were low-scoring, defensive affairs.
The two Golden Knights victories were reminiscent of playoff games in the sense that they were more structured and focused on the defensive side of the puck and picking spots offensively. They are the more experienced team, and come playoff time, that will be a major factor in any series.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks made the biggest move of the offseason, acquiring elite defenseman Erik Karlsson and many analysts picked them to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup this season. Add that Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier are turning into bonafide stars, the Sharks are stacked from top to bottom.
Unfortunately, their goaltending is not the same as in seasons past. Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have a save percentage under .900 (individually .898 and .890, respectively) and haven’t had a string of quality starts this season.
The Golden Knights and the Sharks met in the semi-finals last season, with Vegas taking the series in six games. They say the best way to create a rivalry is to play a team in the playoffs and their series last spring boiled over into this season. The Golden Knights are 2-1 against the Sharks this season, with two dominant victories (6-0 and 7-3). They have one game remaining against each other at the end of March.
The Golden Knights are hungry to get back to the Stanley Cup Final and, this time, seal the deal. With the addition of Stone and after signing Paul Stastny over the summer, they have the firepower to keep up with the league’s best, and they have one of the best goalies in the league in Marc-Andre Fleury. If the Flames and Sharks get subpar goaltending, the road back to the Final will be an easy one for the Golden Knights.