Unlike the series against the Nashville Predators that had an almost excruciating long wait time before the puck dropped, Jets fans who are still on a high of a seventh game win will be thrust right into the action of game one of the Western Conference Final less than 48 hours after seeing the Jets beat Nashville.
Still, we wanted to hear from the Vegas side of things and what better person to ask than Ken Boehlke of the wildly popular VGK site: SinBin.Vegas – We asked him five questions which he did a phenomenal job answering to give us some perspective in what has been an amazing hockey story out in Nevada.
JetsNation: There have been a lot of remarkable aspects to the Knights’ inaugural season, but if you had to pick one that has been by far the most surprising, seemingly “out of nowhere never expected it” storyline –the fact your team is in the Western Conference Final with a legit shot at #CupIn1 can’t be the one you pick – what would you say it is?
SinBin: It has to be William Karlsson. This is a guy that couldn’t even get into the Top 6 in Columbus, didn’t start the season on the Top 6 out of training camp in Vegas, and has turned himself into a bonafide Selke candidate who also scored 43 goals. There’s nothing not to like about the way Karlsson plays the game including the fact that he brings it every single night. Nate Schmidt is a heck of a story going from the guy who was bumped out of the lineup for Kevin Shattenkirk last year to being the shut-down guy on the Golden Knights and a legit top 20 defenseman in the league. And I’d be remissed if I didn’t mention Fleury. He just had the best year of his career and he’s having the best playoffs of any goalie in the league. The dude is 33-years-old and has been doing this forever, how the heck is he having the best year he’s ever had? But, it’s all par for the corse for the Golden Knights.
JetsNation: Early on in the season as Vegas was doing so well, there were many who thought that the “magic” would run out and eventually the Knights would just fade back in the standings if not out of the playoff picture altogether. Was there ever that feeling from Vegas fans as well, and if there was, what was the moment where there was a general feeling of “ya know, this team has something special going on here”
SinBin: It kind of faded a bit in the late February around the trade deadline and lingered into March. They were seemingly going through the motions and it almost felt like they were just riding out the season just trying to get healthy. However, even through the down time (which wasn’t too bad because they never lost more than three straight), they always found a way to win the games they really needed. There was a big one against Colorado, one against San Jose, and the best example was a home game against Calgary. This team has a knack for playing their absolute best when they seem to need it the most, and it’s continued through the first 10 games of the playoffs, which is incredible.
JetsNation: Marc-Andre Fleury is easily the leader for Conn Smythe consideration going into the third round for very good reason, but the defense playing in front of him has also been really good. Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, and Shea Theodore have been carrying the load and getting most of the attention. Is it fair to say that the team’s overall depth on defense has been severely underrated and where would you put them in relation to other top team defenses?
SinBin: There’s no question they are underrated as a whole, but aside from Schmidt I wouldn’t say they are underrated individually. Schmidt is a stud and makes his partner so much better when he’s on the ice. He’s relied upon in all situations and has even come up with a couple huge goals late in games. Aside from him though, they are just a well-rounded core that each have unique strengths that pair well with their partner. McNabb’s stick in the d-zone is incredible, Miller’s slap shot is an absolute weapon any time he’s on the ice, Sbisa (when healthy) is your classic stay-at-home guy who never seems to be caught out of position, Theodore is the swift skater that can jump up and lead a rush seemingly out of no where, and Engelland is just a rock. They play defense with quickness and simplicity and it can frustrate the heck out of opposing teams. They stand up on the blue line to challenge entries, get to the puck first when it’s dumped, then make easy passes using backchecking forwards to exit the zone. It’s Hockey 101 but a lot of teams don’t do it and it allows forechekers to terrorize them, this rarely happens to Vegas. All this being said, they are not good, at all, against the cycle game. If all 10 skaters are in the Golden Knights zone, they are in trouble and it almost always takes an unforced error or a blocked shot for them to get out.
JetsNation: Gerard Gallant is a shoo-in for Norris Trophy Coach of the Year honors. How much of the success of the team is on him and would have any other coach been able to come in and lead Vegas to where they are now, or was it really a right coach at the perfect time?
SinBin: It’s hard to believe anyone in the history of coaching could have done a better job than Turk has this season. The guy has pushed every button right every single time he’s had to do it. He’s loved by his players for his honesty and his belief that the past is the past. He told us early in the year that he doesn’t ever want a player to show up to the rink unhappy, and while he gets salty after losses, he’s been true to his word when it comes to the next day. Win or lose, it’s on to the next one. He’s the perfect guy to lead a team of castoffs because he’s a castoff himself.
JetsNation: The playoffs have been relative smooth sailing for Vegas so far, but is there anything that you can see that may concern you going into the West Final against the Jets?
SinBin: The Sharks were able to get to the front of the net a lot. Winnipeg spent a ton of time breathing down the neck of whichever Preds goalie was in there and they’ll likely be able to manage to take some of that ice against Vegas as well. Also, Vegas has struggled at times to enter the zone when big bodies clog up the neutral zone. Winnipeg has the guys to do it and they’ll clearly be focused on limiting the Golden Knights transition game throughout the series. Finally, for the first time all playoffs, they are facing a team they might not actually be better than. That doesn’t mean they can’t win the series and it doesn’t mean they won’t win games if they play at the highest level they can, but it does mean a tough few minutes can sink the series rather than a period or a game like it has against the inferior competition of the Pacific Division. I think Vegas played two of the worst teams the playoffs had to offer in the Kings and the Sharks and now they are stepping up to play a team that absolutely belongs in the NHL’s final four. They can beat the Jets, even in Winnipeg, but a tough moment here or there will mean much more in this series than it did in the ones in which they were clearly the better team.