LAS VEGAS – In their first four seasons, the Vegas Golden Knights reached the finals of several conferences – three – as the Vancouver Canucks managed the National Hockey League for more than five decades.
Still, here they are on Stretch Drive in April, both frantically trying to make the playoffs. Last fall, only Cancus was expected to be in this predicament.
But until the Golden Knights, plagued by injuries all season, won their last five games, the position of perennial Stanley Cup contenders in the standings was almost as dangerous as Cancus.
Vancouver must win in Las Vegas to keep the embers of their play-offs alive, while the Knights are trying to keep pace, hoping they can knock out the combination of either the Dallas Stars and the Nashville Predators or the Edmonton Oilers. , St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings, on the regular-season finish line.
The fundamental difference between the Canucks and the Golden Knights – in addition to an eight-point gap in the standings after a 3-2 overtime win in Vegas on Sunday in Vancouver – is that one team wants to win, the other expects it.
“Right now, we’re living in the moment,” Kelly McCrimon, general manager of Knights, told SportsNet. “Our challenge when it comes to playoffs is to stay above the cut line. You just have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people. We are doing what we can. ”
They’ve been all season.
For a Knights team that started out as a miracle in the Nevada Desert in 2017-18, it easily became the most challenging campaign, winning 51 games and making the Stanley Cup Final as an expansion franchise. Over the past four years, according to the 82-game annual schedule, Vegas has averaged 106 points per season. It represents a winning clip that the Canucks have achieved only twice in 52 years.
The Golden Knights have lost 422 games this season due to injuries. Their top three forwards, Jack Aichel, Mark Stone and Max Passioreti, have missed 124 of them. Stone and Passivity remain, though McCrimon hopes both will be back soon. No. 3 defender Alec Martinez missed 56 matches and returned from a face injury that kept him out for four months. Goalkeeper Robin Lehner’s win on Sunday was his first game since his March 8 injury, and his fourth start in almost two months.
“When it first starts, you try to survive and stay in the pile (in the playoff race), which we did,” McCriman said of the injury wave that began in October when Stone and Passiroti went down in the first game. 2. “Unfortunately, we are still in the pile. I never guessed that injuries would be so long and just compound, one after the other. On Sunday, we had eight guys out. In Seattle (Friday), there were nine of us. Take a lot of people out of your lineup and you’ll lose your depth. “
But, still, the Vegas 39-28-4 and upward trend. The Canucks are 32-28-10 and have won just three of their last 13 games, losing three more in overtime.
The Knights have a lot of players who have done nothing but win, and that culture now counts for something. This is the culture that Canucks is still trying to build.
“It’s a lot of guys are learning right now to win,” said veteran Vancouver defender Luke Shane, who has won the Stanley Cup for the past two seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, on Tuesday. “Being part of a winning team and knowing what the playoffs are like, how difficult it is, shift in and shift out, nothing is easier. It sometimes wins that little extra battle, getting deeper or getting the Pak out of your territory. It’s all small drama that adds up. In fact, over the last couple of months, it has been like a play-off hockey for us. I think the guys are still constantly trying to figure out what a play-off hockey game is and what each small game means.
“It simply came to our notice then. When you have guys who don’t have that experience, you don’t just snap your fingers and it happens. You have to go through the experience, and I hope we can get it out sooner. “
Golden Knights coach Pete Deborah said after Sunday’s win that his organization’s winning culture helps in difficult times.
“You know, there’s no panic,” he said. “We know that in the situation we are in, we know we are in control of our own destiny. We just have to win the game, and the boys are doing it. “
The resilience of the Knights has been impressive – even if many people outside of Las Vegas rejoice against them.
Their expansion was impossible not to like Cinderella, especially as the Golden Knights helped heal their city after a horrific mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert five days before the team’s inaugural Pak drop.
But they have all won, and McCriman has raised a lot of money to add Aichel and top defender Alex Pietrenzello, while popular original Knights Mark-Andre Flurry, Net Schmidt and Alex Touch have merged Vegas. Like the New York Yankees West in hockey.
“We’re not ashamed that we’re trying to win,” McCrimon said. “I have said many times, nothing is easy to do, is it? Nothing is easy to do and just hope things go your way. Good is the enemy of the great. I’m not saying it’s easy to have a good team. But when you have a good team, it is easy to be satisfied.
“The thing for me is to manage where you are. And if we don’t feel or prove that we were close, well, there’s probably no reason to go out and get Jack Aichel. But that’s not the way I want to run the team. We are trying to win. “
CapFriendly.com shows the Golden Knights with a projected cap hit of $ 92.29 million this season, with a maximum salary cap of around $ 11 million. Even after the NHL’s embarrassing refusal, Evgeny Dadanov’s pay-dump / trade, Vegas Cap compliant last month remained because many of its biggest and highest paid players have spent time on long-term injured reserves.
Stone, who has a $ 9.5-million cap charge on LTIR, will have to strategize with McCrimon and his staff if he returns before the end of the regular season. Passivity, which hits $ 7 million, has a regular injured reserve and can play at any time.
If the Knights get these players back and make the playoffs, no one would like to face them in the first round, even if Vegas is seventh or eighth.
“When we (finished) offseason, we really felt like the makeup on our roster was very close to what we wanted,” McCrimon said. “We like our forward group, our D-Rock is tough. (Backup Golki Laurent) Coming under Broswit Lehner, we thought a really important addition for us. In terms of makeup on our roster, we were really satisfied. And then we added Aichel, which of course made us a better team again. If we can get in, I think we know what to expect during the playoffs. We will have a tough out. “
Shane says: “What they are trying to do is win. They literally do whatever it takes and bring in whatever it takes to win. There is no doubt that they are still an elite party. “
The Canucks traveled to Las Vegas on Tuesday without top-six winger Brock Boyser, who suffered a parallel injury when he hit teammate Elias Peterson Ben Hutton along the board on Sunday. Vancouver star defender Quinn Hughes could be without, who missed practice on Tuesday due to a non-covid illness.
“At this stage, the only thing that matters is victory and defeat,” said Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau. “You create culture by winning, and, I mean, I think we’ve won a lot more than we’ve lost since we came here … and we compete hard most nights. We get a chance to knock them out, then great. “I know they want to sit there and kill us and destroy us as soon as possible.”