For those of you holding Vegas Golden Knights futures tickets at 500-to-1, there is no truth to the rumor your favorite sportsbook will buy-back your wager at half-price. Yet!
With former San Jose Sharks prospect Ryan Carpenter back in the lineup, and the return of Oscar Lindberg and Cody Eakin back from healthy scratches, the Knights again demonstrated too much depth, eliminating the Sharks with a pair of victories over the weekend.
The series clincher came Sunday when Marc-Andre Fleury notched yet another shutout in a 3-0 Vegas road triumph, taking the series in six games. “Flower” registered 28 saves.
The Golden Knights (8-2 in Stanley Cup play) await the winner of the Central Division Final between Winnipeg and Nashville, which entered Monday’s Game 6 with the Jets leading 3-2.
In Vegas’ flight to the Pacific Division crown, fans at San Jose’s SAP Center were left in a mystery on how the Knights won – literally. The second goal of the second period came minutes after Jonathan Marchessault scored. Next came the unexpected.
Nate Schmidt fired one on goal that took a weird ricochet, as play continued, the “war room” (or “situation room”) in Toronto looked at the replay. It showed the shot indeed smacked the left post, then off the back-brace inside the net, then quickly out for a goal to make it 2-0. The Sharks never really recovered from the ruling some 2,200-plus miles away in Ontario. They lost an elimination game at home for the third straight season.
The next step is determining the favorite in a Knights series with either the Jets or the President’s Trophy winning Predators. Many hockey experts believe both Winnipeg and Nashville are better than Vegas. However, because of the liability the books hold on the Knights, based on the math and the dollars, Vegas might be the wagering favorite no matter what the reality is on the ice.
Personally, I believe both Central Division contestants hold an edge over “our” team, but you won’t see me selecting against the Knights.
Let’s just say, this is the closest Cup competition since 2009 and 2014 when three of the four series in the Round-of-8 (whether you call it the Division Final, the Conference Semifinal, or the NHL Quarterfinals) went the full seven games. Both times, Chicago won the odd series in six. Before that, it’s been since 1986.
So decisive, precise handicapping is more crucial than ever.
If Winnipeg fails to seal the deal on Monday, Game 7 will be held in Music City on Wednesday.
The Men of Manitoba possess one tool both Vegas and Nashville are lacking: speedy forwards who can play a physical game. VGK lacks the overall strength; the Preds’ players do one thing or the other – not both.
It’s no wonder Winnipeg is slowly becoming the Futures favorite, overtaking the two remaining West contestants.
Of course, goalie handicapping remains a key, with the Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck out-playing Pekka Renne, who looks nothing like the net-minder that led Nashville to the Cup Final last June.
Which leads to an interesting question for the public to ponder at the local pub: Which team owns the more remarkable playoff run, Vegas (an expansion team) or Winnipeg (all-time Cup record of 0-8 in franchise history)?
More advantages of Winnipeg: Dustin Byfuglien leads all defensemen in playoff scoring; and Mathieu Perreault just returned following an eight-game hiatus.
Up front, Jets forwards Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Paul Stastny and Patrik Laine are considered equals to Marchessault, William “Wild Bill” Karlsson and James Neal.
If you’ve enjoyed the playoffs so far, the next two weeks will be even better.
While Brad Marchand and the Boston Bruins took a licking, it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning that came away ticking… continuing Stanley Cup play by advancing into the East Final.
The Bolts, the Atlantic Division titleist in five games, will battle the winner between Washington and Pittsburgh, which entered Game 6 on Monday night with the Caps leading 3-games-to-2 at press time.
Marchand, a long-time member of the Kiss Club (sorry, Gene Simmons), may not join the ilk of athletes that bite – boxer Mike Tyson (vs. Evander Holyfield, ear, ’97) and NFL lineman Conrad Dobler (vs. Doug Sutherland, finger, ’77) are most noteworthy – but at least his Bruins may take solace in quickly overhauling their roster to remain a contender in the immediate future.
For Tampa Bay, the extra rest – it could be a week should the Pens-Caps series go the full seven – will be the icing on the cake to make the Lightning heavy favorites. I can’t disagree. It was just three years when Tampa was knocking on the door to a championship.
In 2015, they lost the Cup Final to Chicago (the Bolts once led the series, 2-1), then narrowly fell to the Penguins in the East Final a year later – they were the public team everyone was wagering on. But when Steven Stamkos went down with an injury in 2017, plus the goaltending situation on what to do between Ben Bishop or Andrei Vasilevskiy because of the Vegas expansion draft, it became a lost season.
Today, Stamkos is back and at full power, Nikita Kucherov is a 100-point scorer, and Vasilevskiy, the No. 19 overall draft pick from 2012, looks fully mature for 23.
So why isn’t anyone talking about the Lightning? While the media is focused on Caps-Pens, and with the stronger Western Conference beating on each other, perhaps the Bolts should be the true favorites for the Cup.
As for Caps-Pens, Washington has been synonymous with choking in Cup play; Pittsburgh just the opposite, including a great record in elimination games.
The Tom Wilson suspension takes away from the top line centered by Alex Ovechkin, while the other lines are not producing goals. Conversely, the Penguins defense is only fair, with G Matt Murray not performing at the current level of Vasilevskiy (despite his Cup win last season).
Such inconsistencies by both teams in their series is another reason to take Tampa Bay to reach its third Cup Final.
Bill Torrey, the Hockey Hall of Famer who constructed the New York Islanders dynasty, passed away at 83. Ironic with the playoffs in progress and the Penguins seeking a third straight Stanley Cup. Torrey’s Isles were the last to capture four straight titles some 35 years ago (1980-83).
Torrey also built the then-expansion Florida Panthers, reaching the Stanley Cup Final in just their third season.