When the 2017-18 NHL season started, no one assumed that the Vegas Golden Knights would be the league’s most lethal threat heading into the 2018 postseason.
With a roster made up of other teams’ cast-offs and an entire lineup needing to learn a new system, it was supposed to be a year of growth for the expansion club. Anything at all would have been a win in their book.
Then, they actually started to play - and fast forward to Game 2 of their first playoff series, and they’re already going absolutely nuts.
Through a whopping 95 minutes of hockey on Friday night, the Golden Knights held the Los Angeles Kings to just 30 shots on goal, taking 55 of their own before scoring the double-OT game winner just shy of midnight on shot 56.
Oh... and did we mention that it was a 2-1 victory, coming up on the heels of the 1-0 shutout win they earned in game one?
We're still selling alcohol in some of our lounges here— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) April 14, 2018
other cities would have cut that off like 3 hours ago
Some of it so far has been sheer dumb luck. Some has been Marc-Andre Fleury putting up the second-best numbers in the NHL during the regular season, and some has been the motivation the franchise has had to both prove the world wrong about hockey in Sin City and to honor the 58 who lost their lives just down the road from the arena to kick off their season.
They retired the number 58, which was probably the most touching tribute of the year and sums up the entire season for the club. [Las Vegas Sun]
They also went absolutely bananas on every team they faced during the regular season, and now they’re putting Jonathan Quick through the ringer.
It’s a wild ride, guys.
On the other coast, though, Friday night saw an absolute hot mess for a second straight game in another series; where the Pittsburgh Penguins picked up game one against the Philadelphia Flyers with a 7-0 decision, Philadelphia fought back and snagged a 5-1 win of their own in game two.
Where the Kings and Knights are getting Vezina goaltending, the Flyers and Penguins are getting something else entirely; Matt Murray allowed four goals on 19 shots on Friday night, while Brian Elliott had allowed five on 19 in game one to get yanked in favor of Petr Mrazek (who allowed two of his own on 14 to bring the goals against to 7). Which, despite preconceived notions... is pretty much par for the course given how they played this year:
Flyers vs Penguins starts Wednesday and from statistical standpoint Flyers have the edge in Net. Elliott had better GAA and Save% over Murray this season. Elliott still is clearly not 100% but it’s playoffs and those become excuses at this time of year. Should be a fun one. pic.twitter.com/Exp2zk7DHk— Jason Myrtetus (@jasonmyrt) April 9, 2018
Y I K E S.
And, since a Philly-Pittsburgh series cannot exist without some kind of controversy, here’s the hit that is either a Raffi Torres impersonation or a complete accident, depending on which team you’re cheering for:
Scary moment in Flyers vs. Penguins as Giroux and Letang collide. pic.twitter.com/iCyhmnJtCH— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) April 14, 2018
The final game on Friday night was Minnesota vs. Winnipeg, where the Jets won their second franchise playoff game (yes, that is real life) to go up 2-0 in the series (and yes, that means exactly what you think it means about their record leading up to this year).
Part of their win was that Connor Hellebuyck was barely tested, facing just 17 shots over a 60-minute game. For perspective, that would have put them at 27 shots in 95 minutes, compared to LA’s atrociously bad 30. Just think about that.
The other part, though, was the relentless offense they threw at Devan Dubnyk, who stopped 40 shots and still managed to lose the game 4-1. That had a little something to do with Patrik Laine, noted beet farmer and magnificent troll:
For a little more insight into who he is as a person (spoiler: it’s hilarious), here’s the piece he did for The Player’s Tribune earlier this year. [TPT]
Here’s also a nice little look at how the Evander Kane trade, while looked at as almost a desperation move at the time (with an admittedly nice haul), is truly paying off for the Jets. And since Kane scored two goals in his NHL playoff debut earlier this week, it’s safe to say it’s paying off for him, too; the only people who ended up losers in this scenario are Buffalo. [Sportsnet]
In other news, the league actually cracked down on a vicious hit on Friday, nailing Nazem Kadri with a three-game suspension for headhunting in Game One against Boston to injure Tommy Wingels. [NHL Department of Player Safety]
Also, if you have a subscription to The Athletic, here’s a really awesome piece on how Pierre-Luc Dubois hopes to develop a reputation as a playoff guy. [The Athletic Columbus]
Now, for the Avalanche:
Nashville, I don’t know if you’ve heard, is a good hockey market. It’s an underrated hockey market! Did you know it’s a hockey market?
Joking aside, though, Bridgestone Arena is not an easy place to play for opponents during the postseason, so Colorado will have to hunker down and ride it out until they can bring the series back home to Denver. [The Denver Post]
We also have word of a recall:
Spencer Martin has been called up by the Avalanche pic.twitter.com/U2z3y8aM5v— Mile High Playoffs (@MileHighHockey) April 13, 2018
Martin hasn’t been terrible in the AHL this year, but he did lose out on the starting gig to Ville Husso of the St. Louis Blues’ system on a team that ultimately finished last in their division.
No word yet on if he’s a premature black ace or if he’s there for Bernier, but we’re crossing our fingers, toes, tongues, and eyes that it’s the former; if both Bernier AND Varlamov are out, the series may very well be a wash. The hope, we suppose, is that Andrew Hammond still has a little magic playoff dust up his sleeve somewhere and can steal the team a game or two.
Finally, Ken Hitchcock has formally announced his retirement:
We all knew it was coming, but it’s still a blow.
Always quick with a quip for the media, Hitchcock was revered by some of his former players and somewhat reviled by others. He developed a reputation by the end of his career as being a tough coach to play for as a goaltender, but also had an eye for getting things done.
So many jobs in the NHL, both on the ice and in the front office, are almost seemingly given out to former players. At the very least, the guys who make it into prominent roles for NHL clubs (and, to an extent, AHL as well) had at least a cup of coffee in the show, while non-players are only given more consideration than women when it comes to job offerings.
That makes Hitch an anomaly and a unicorn in the sport. Whether you loved his style or cringed at his treatment of certain players, it was hard to deny that his level of success as a guy who never really played the game is a remarkable testament to how even the least athletically inclined among us sometimes just think the game at an absolutely incredible level.
For Athletic subscribers, here’s a long read on his career. I’m sure The Player’s Tribune is whipping something up, as well; it’s only a matter of time before I pass that along to you. [The Athletic NHL]
If you have questions, comments, ideas, or suggestions for the Playoff Flurries, let me know! Drop them in the comments here or send me a message on Twitter.