The Vegas Golden Knights were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens, losing 3-2 in overtime in Game 6 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Semifinals at Montreal on Thursday.
The Golden Knights, who lost to the Dallas Stars in five games in the Western Conference Final last season, led the NHL in regular-season wins (40), tied the Colorado Avalanche for most regular-season points (82) and lost to the Presidents’ Trophy to them due to the regulation-wins tiebreaker (35-30). Vegas defeated the Minnesota Wild in seven games in the first round and Colorado in six games in the second round before running into a tough Montreal defense.
Here is a look at what happened during the 2021 postseason for the Golden Knights and why things could be better next season:
Potential unrestricted free agents: Mattias Janmark, F; Tomas Nosek, F; Alec Martinez, D
Potential restricted free agents: None
Potential 2021 NHL Draft picks: 6
What went wrong
Top forwards stymied
Max Pacioretty (24), Mark Stone (21), Alex Tuch (18), Jonathan Marchessault (18), Chandler Stephenson (14), William Karlsson (14) and Reilly Smith (14) led Vegas in goals during the regular season. They combined for 25 goals in the first two rounds of the playoffs but two goals against Montreal. Vegas went 0-for-15 on the power play in the series.
Marc-Andre Fleury was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the NHL in the regular season and for the most part was outstanding in the playoffs. But with the Golden Knights on the verge of taking a 2-1 series lead against the Canadiens, he misplayed the puck behind his net late in Game 3, leading to the tying goal with 1:55 left in the third period. Vegas went on to lose 3-2 in overtime, fall behind 2-1 in the series and chase the series from then on. That was the biggest mistake of many. Too often, the Golden Knights were frustrated by the Canadiens’ defensive structure, turned over the puck and fed their quick-strike offense.
Out of gas
Vegas took a 3-1 series lead in the first round, then lost Games 5 and 6 to Minnesota. That meant the Golden Knights had to survive Game 7 to advance, and had one day to recover for the second round. It showed when they lost 7-1 to the Avalanche in Game 1. They fell behind 2-0 in that series. Though they won four straight and had three days to recover before the semifinals, there seemed to be a cumulative effect.
Reasons for optimism
Ahead of schedule
Owner Bill Foley’s original goal was to make the playoffs in three seasons and win the Stanley Cup in six. Not only have the Golden Knights made the playoffs each of their four seasons, they have reached the third round three times and made the Cup Final in their inaugural season of 2017-18. The only reason this is a disappointment is that they have set the bar so high. They still have two seasons to meet Foley’s championship timeline.
Vegas finished eighth in the NHL in points percentage (.606) in 2019-20, when Peter DeBoer took over as coach after 49 games, and tied Colorado for the best record (.732) this season. After losing to Dallas, which took away the middle of the ice and got great goaltending in the playoffs last season, the Golden Knights defeated the Wild, who used much the same formula in the playoffs this season. “We found a way this year where a year ago I’m not confident we would have,” DeBoer said. They just couldn’t do it again against the Canadiens.
Vegas has been aggressive in its pursuit of the Stanley Cup, pushing the limits of the NHL salary cap, adding players such as Stone, Pacioretty, defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Martinez and goalie Robin Lehner. It will be complicated with the cap flat at $81.5 million, and the Golden Knights face challenges. But there is no reason to think they won’t continue to go for it.