Do Knights have another long run in them?
April 12, 2019 3:01 AM
by Steve Carp
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Sorry, not Christmas. But pretty close.
It’s mid-April. And if you’re a sports fan, how much better does it get than this?
Baseball is underway. Hope is still in place for every team. The Masters tees off Thursday and we will see golf’s best go at it in the beautiful setting that is Augusta National. And if you’ve forgotten just how beautiful it is, don’t worry. CBS will remind you every couple of minutes with its words and pictures.
The NBA playoffs will tip off this weekend. It’ll be weird not seeing LeBron James participating. But the focus will be on a lot of other great players and honestly, that’s not a bad thing. James Harden. Steph Curry. Kawhi Leonard. Giannis Antetokounmpo. Kevin Durant. Russell Westbrook. Those half dozen alone will make the postseason worth watching.
The NFL draft is a couple of weeks away and so is the release of the 2019 schedule. So football fans will definitely not feel left out.
The Kentucky Derby is looming the first Saturday of May and we’re all waiting to see if there’s another Justify in this jumbled mix of 20 three-year-olds that will make the Run for the Roses, not to mention a Triple Crown in horse racing.
But arguably the most exciting event of the springtime sports calendar begins Wednesday.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs get under way with 16 teams needing 16 wins to claim hockey’s ultimate trophy. The intensity and competitiveness is unparalleled. The drama is unbelievable. The sport’s announcers add to the excitement. Even if you are not a hockey fan, you might be tempted to tune in and see what all the fuss is about.
For those who follow the NHL, this is all old hat. They know the teams, the players and coaches. They understand the superstitions of not touching conference championship trophies and the traditions like growing playoff beards. They embrace the history. And if you happen to be a fan of one of the 16 teams, it only heightens the anxiety.
We saw that here in Las Vegas a year ago. The Golden Knights, the self-proclaimed bunch of “Golden Misfits,” made a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, only to fall to Washington in five games. The Capitals are back to defend their Cup championship but they’re going to be hard pressed to repeat.
There’s a special group of guys in Florida that have had a remarkable season. The Tampa Bay Lightning won 62 games, had 128 points and are the 2-1 future book favorites to win the Cup. This is a team that has it all – scoring, defense, goaltending and coaching.
Yet, those who follow hockey know all too well the race doesn’t always go to the swiftest or most talented. Too many variables stand in the way. Otherwise, they’d just award the Cup to the Lightning and everyone could go home and play golf and hang out by their summer cottages on the lake.
No, this is a grind and you pay a heavy price to earn your championships. You’re going to lose players to injuries along the way. Those who survive this two-month war of attrition are going to be bruised and battered. There are going to be overtime thrillers, blowouts and teams rallying from the dead to win.
So what should you look for this year? Can the Golden Knights make another magical run? Or is there another team that can be this year’s Knights?
I’ve always believed you win with goaltending in the playoffs. A hot goalie can carry a team a long way. Marc-Andre Fleury did it last year for Vegas and he‘s certainly capable of doing it this year. The Knights are a much different team than the one that went to the Cup Final a year ago. Mark Stone has been a terrific pickup at the trade deadline. There’s more balanced scoring than a year ago. The defense has run hot and cold but it’s essentially the same group as a year ago.
The Knights face San Jose, a team which they eliminated a year ago in the conference semifinals. Fleury was a big reason why and he figures to do so again this year. The Sharks’ goaltending tandem of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell simply do not match up to Fleury.
It may be why Boston could challenge Tampa in the East. Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak have given the Bruins great goaltending all year and they are coming into the playoffs a hot team.
Yes, momentum never hurts this time of the year. If you’re playing well, it helps everyone’s confidence. Nashville is coming into the playoffs on an up tick. So is Colorado, which locked up the final Western Conference playoff spot. And the defending Cup champion Capitals seem to have their mojo going.
Dallas is in the playoffs with a coach who was behind the bench of a college program a year ago. St. Louis has risen from the dead like Lazerus. The Islanders never folded after their strong start and have revived a dormant fan base on Long Island. Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto will carry the banner for a country that hasn’t seen the Cup reside on Canadian soil since 1993.
It’s going to be an exciting and compelling next couple of months. Here in Las Vegas, it’s going to mean standing room only — for practice — along with watch parties outside the arena for away games. The question is, will history repeat itself? Or will the sequel have an even happier ending culminating with a parade down the Strip in late June?
I can see another long run by the Golden Knights. A Cup, however? My guess is the parade will likely wind up in Florida. I had the Lightning winning the Cup last year. I think I was a bit premature with my prognostication by 365 days.
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