Roundtable: X factors, adjustments and picks for Game 5

The Washington Capitals are up 3-1 in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, but the Vegas Golden Knights are back home at T-Mobile Arena for Game 5. We checked in with our panel to answer the biggest questions — and get their pick on the game.

The Knights must ______ to win Game 5.

Greg Wyshynski, senior hockey writer: Create an ounce of doubt in the minds of the Capitals. You can count on one hand the number of times it felt like the Capitals didn’t have control of this series since Game 2. In previous rounds, the Golden Knights stunned their opponents with speed and scoring and, most importantly, a hole from which those opponents had to dig. In 10 of their 15 games preceding the Stanley Cup Final, the Knights held a lead after two periods. They won each time. They didn’t lead entering the third in this series’ first four games. “When we’re playing our game, we’re putting doubt in other teams’ minds,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. Considering the Capitals’ history with 3-1 playoff leads, that’s essential.

Emily Kaplan, national hockey reporter: Tighten up on defense and clog shooting lanes. Most lopsided stat from the Final: In the Capitals’ three wins, they have a 68-25 advantage in blocked shots. Other than that, the Golden Knights should start the game exactly as they did in Game 4, buzzing with energy. Several Vegas players said Game 4 was their best performance of the series. (I agree.) Keep at it, and don’t get discouraged — and pray that the hockey gods even out the bounces.

Chris Peters, hockey prospects writer: Dictate the pace of the game and own the puck more consistently. The Golden Knights have had stretches, even during the past few games, when they looked like the better team. If they can use their speed to keep the pressure on Washington’s blue line, test Braden Holtby and keep the puck at the other end of the ice as much as possible, they’re going to give themselves a chance. This team has thrived on everyone’s contributions, and it will need every last guy playing an attacking brand of hockey that made it one of the NHL’s best stories in years.

Victoria Matiash, fantasy hockey analyst: Erupt with a first-period effort similar to what we saw in Game 4. They were the better team through 20 minutes. Fourteen times out of 15, James Neal doesn’t miss that open net — which would set an entirely different tone for the rest of the period — and the Knights would head back to the dressing up one or more instead of down 3-0.

Ben Arledge, Insider NHL editor: Attack early and often. The crowd is the Knights’ best asset in Game 5, and you can’t lose it with a sluggish start. If Vegas can pot one in the opening minutes and set the tone, it’ll be in good shape. Start flat and let Washington play its game, though, and it will be a long night. From the puck drop, the Knights need to be the better team. Even if the game starts 30 minutes later than expected again so Panic! at the Disco can play a full set, the Golden Knights can’t afford to show up late.

What was the turning point for the Capitals’ season?

Wyshynski: The most important game of the Capitals’ season, and perhaps the Alex Ovechkin era up until this point, was Game 6 of the second round, when they eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins. Please recall that this was the game in which they were without center Nicklas Backstrom and winger Andre Burakovsky to injury, and Tom Wilson to suspension. A Game 7 seemed inevitable. Instead, the Capitals got a goal created by Alex Chiasson and Nathan Walker, neither of whom have seen a second of ice time in the Final, and the game winner created by Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The unburdening of the weight of previous playoff failures — the Capitals defeated the Penguins for just the second time in 11 series in franchise history — has propelled them to one win from the Cup.

Kaplan: What’s different about this team — as opposed to the many excellent Alex Ovechkin-led teams over the past 13 years — is its success in the playoffs. So I have to point to Game 3 of the first round. Down 2-0 in the series — after squandering regulation leads to lose in overtime — Washington finally got the bounce it needed in the form of an ugly double-overtime goal. This gave the Capitals the confidence to thwart their biggest foes, the Penguins, in the second round, and the rest is — they hope — history.

Peters: I’m going with the same series as Emily, but I’m going to go with the emphatic close-out in Game 6 against the Blue Jackets. With the Caps, no one is comfortable until a series is over. In that game, Holtby got a lot of work as the Blue Jackets just kept pouring it on, finishing with 38 shots on goal. Each time Columbus seemed to have life, the Capitals would snatch it away. That game was eye-opening and showed that this team could close, even if it was still a little hard to believe given the club’s recent postseason history.

Matiash: Wedging myself between Emily and Chris, I felt the tide truly turn in the Capitals’ favor in Game 4 against the Blue Jackets. After nailing a crucial overtime win in Game 3 to draw back into the series, Washington left little to question with a dominating 4-1 victory in Game 4. Ovechkin was terrific. Kuznetsov racked up four points. Holtby was nearly impenetrable. Although the series was now tied 2-2, there was already a sense of looking forward to the next round, and — Penguins or no Penguins — beyond.

READ FULL ARTICLE AT ESPN.COM : http://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/23721464/stanley-cup-final-game-5-washington-capitals-vs-vegas-golden-knights-biggest-questions-x-factors-picks-nhl

 


 

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Marc-Andre Fleury has tickled the fancy of Vegas Golden Knights fans all season

MAY 17, 2018
LAS VEGAS

Such are the extraordinary powers of Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury that he didn’t even have to be on the ice to earn an assist.

A scoring review after his spectacular 33-save performance against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday confirmed he deserved the second assist on the empty-net goal by Jonathan Marchessault that gave the Golden Knights the upper hand in the Western Conference final. Fleury was surprised to hear he had gotten the assist. His teammates aren’t surprised by any of his feats. “He does it all,” forward David Perron said.
Fleury, 33, did the Pittsburgh Penguins an enormous favor last season when he accepted their request that he waive his no-move clause so they wouldn’t have to protect him in the expansion draft that stocked Vegas’ roster and could keep younger, salary cap-friendly Matt Murray. The Golden Knights got instant credibility when they claimed Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup champion. They also got a man who taps his goalposts and thanks them in his native French and in English when they stop pucks, a man who learned to use humor to defuse white-knuckle situations.
“I think that’s the key to making sure you don’t tense up at the wrong moment,” said Perron, who is expected to return Friday after missing two games because of an illness. “You make sure you keep playing your game, and that’s what he does. At the end of the day when he lost to Matt last year because he’s a younger goalie and the salary cap and all that stuff, he wants to prove himself. Every single day he’s out there he’s having fun.”

During the Golden Knights’ unexpected playoff journey, Fleury has joined fans in doing the wave and, on Wednesday, he slyly tickled the ear of Winnipeg forward Blake Wheeler when players began pushing and shoving in front of his goal crease. “I’d be having fun too if I was up 2-1 in the series,” Winnipeg forward Adam Lowry said as the teams prepared for Game 4 on Friday at T-Mobile Arena.
The Golden Knights hold that lead because Fleury has backed up his humor with seriously clutch efforts and is 10-3 with a 1.70 goals-against average, .945 save percentage, and a playoff-leading four shutouts. Among his most impressive work were a toe save and a scrambling body block in quick succession against Winnipeg forward Mark Scheifele in the third period Wednesday while protecting a one-goal lead. Asked where he ranked those stops among all the timely saves he has made during his career, he grinned in embarrassment.
“I don’t remember all my saves,” he said.
But his teammates will remember those two saves for a while. “I was on the bench. I was freaking out. I couldn’t believe they didn’t score, honestly,” said forward Alex Tuch, who scored Vegas’ third goal, at 8:13 of the second period, on a pass from James Neal. “It was an unbelievable couple of saves there. He kept us in the game the entire time. He was the key to our success.”

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Bryce Harper’s love affair with his Vegas Golden Knights – and hockey – goes into overtime

It’s the one where he’ll be wearing a gold, black and steel gray uniform,  perhaps a helmet perched on his head as he settles in front of his vast TV.

This is where he’ll be watching his beloved Vegas Golden Knights hockey team play Game 3 of their Stanley Cup Western Conference finals at T-Mobile Arena against the Winnipeg Jets, the best-of-seven series tied at 1-1, with Harper wondering how much more his heart can take it.

“I get more nervous watching them than anything I’ve ever done in my life,’’ Harper tells USA TODAY Sports, “even playing ball. I don’t get nervous watching my team or when I play at all. I really don’t.

“But when I’m watching them, I get so nervous. I’ll sit on the couch with my wife, going nuts.

“It’s unreal.’’

The Golden Knights, vying to become the first expansion team in a major sport to win a championship in its inaugural season, and already the first hockey team to reach the playoffs in its first year in nearly 40 years, are just three victories shy of going where nobody in their right mind believed they would reach.

Yes, the Stanley Cup Finals.

Forget the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team; maybe the Golden Knights are the unlikeliest miracle on ice.

No one gave them a prayer this season – an NHL-worst 500-to-1 longshot to win the Stanley Cup – except for this certain 25-year-old who happens to be one of the greatest baseball players in the world, and will soon become rich enough to buy his own casino.

“I’m really not surprised,’’ Harper says. “They’re a great team. There’s a lot of guys on that team that have chips on their shoulders because they got let go on other teams they were playing on.

“Look at us. We’ve got one of the best goalies of all-time in our net in (Marc-Andre) Fleury. He was the leader of that team that won three Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh. If we didn’t have a goalie on our team like that, it would definitely be tough. (Wild Bill) Karlsson is having one of the best years of his career. He has six goals in Columbus last year and now has 43 for us.

“We get (Jonathan) Marchessault from the Panthers, and look at the way he’s been playing. Reilly Smith. That whole front line has been unbelievable. Deryk Engelland and Schmidty (Nate Schmidt) coming from the Caps. James Neal, who was with Pittsburgh and Nashville.

“They’re all just such a great group of guys. Just a bunch of really cool dudes who are fast and quick and put the puck into the net. I could go on and on.’’

The Golden Knights have taken Las Vegas by storm, and, oh, can you tell who has caught hockey fever?

Harper and his wife, Kayla, don’t even have kids yet, but Harper already has chosen the sport he wants them to play.

“I’ve fallen in love with hockey,’’ Harper says. “When we have kids, I want them to play hockey. How awesome would that be? I can’t imagine being on the ice and playing such a cool sport.’’

Harper has become Barry Melrose without the colorful high-fashion outfits, soaking up as much hockey knowledge as he can these days. Do you know any other professional athlete who attended virtually every Golden Knights home game during the winter, wearing their jerseys at every opportunity, and occasionally wearing a helmet watching them on his living room couch?

 Do you know any other ballplayer who drops in on their practices, sends dozens of autographed bats with the Golden Knights logo to their locker room, drops the puck against the Washington Caps wearing an Alex Tuch jersey, and is already tentatively planning to see them if they’re playing in the Stanley Cup Finals on a May 24 off day?

 “It’s the first team I really had a passion rooting for,’’ says Harper, born and raised in Las Vegas, and, yes, blessed with the ability to ice skate. “Growing up, I didn’t really root for many teams. I always liked the Lakers. Liked Dallas in football.

“But those are all the winning teams. Even baseball, I’d get home and watch the Braves on Turner, or the Cubs on WGN, right after “Full House’’ and “Family Matters.’’

“But now, I can’t get enough of them. I watch them religiously. I love hockey.’’

Who’d ever have imagined that Las Vegas would become a hockey town, with every game sold out? Really, it’s the gateway to the gambling capital of the USA turning into a sports mecca.

READ FULL STORY: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/columnist/bob-nightengale/2018/05/15/bryce-harper-vegas-golden-knights-hockey/611030002/

 


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Tourist or local? Vegas’ strategy to have the NHL’s best home-ice advantage

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Arash Markazi
ESPN Senior Writer

LAS VEGAS — Late in the third period of the Vegas Golden Knights‘ first Stanley Cup playoff game, a message flashed on the video board at T-Mobile Arena asking fans to make noise depending on who they were.

Make noise if you’re male … make noise if you’re female. Make noise if you’re married … make noise if you’re single.

The roars from the crowd were fairly even for both — until it got to the last one.

Make noise if you’re a tourist … make noise if you’re a local.

There is perhaps no greater distinction for the residents of this city than “tourist or local.” After all, no city is as identified by its hotels and tourists as Las Vegas. Think of all the great Las Vegas-centric movies you have ever seen. From “The Hangover” to “Ocean’s Eleven,” there is a good chance the stars of the film were out-of-towners making bad decisions in Sin City. The sense from those who never venture off The Strip is that locals are simply comprised of card dealers and cocktail waitresses who buy their groceries at Caesars Palace and the Bellagio.

But Las Vegas is a real community with real locals and real families who live real lives far from the bright lights of South Las Vegas Blvd. — and that was on display during the Golden Knights’ first postseason win against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday.

Only two teams won more games at home than Vegas during the regular season, but despite playing in front of sold-out home crowds all season, the stands were often filled with as many (or more) fans from the visiting teams. Weekend games against the likes of Detroit, Boston, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Calgary led to The Strip and surrounding casinos being flooded with jerseys of the opposing team.

That was not the case Wednesday when The Park Las Vegas — an outdoor area lined with trees, waterfalls and restaurants that sits between the New York-New York and Park MGM hotels — was crowded with Golden Knights fans walking the pathway that leads directly to T-Mobile Arena. Outside the arena, Toshiba Plaza, a two-acre area in front of T-Mobile Arena, was filled with more Golden Knights fans getting free Golden Knights tattoos, wearing black and gold face paint, taking pictures with Vegas showgirls and dancing to a concert from Grammy-nominated rapper Logic.

This was a local party surprisingly devoid of Los Angeles fans, which was by design. The Golden Knights enrolled all their full-season-ticket holders in a program that prohibits them from reselling their playoff tickets on the secondary market. In exchange for vowing not to resell, the fans will pay less for tickets than fans who opt out. The team is calling the program the “Knights Vow.”

“We’re a destination city. During the regular season, it was a big part of our event experience. But the Stanley Cup playoffs, that’s a different time,” Vegas team president Kerry Bubolz told ESPN. “We want to do what we can to support the hockey side of our organization.”

The result Wednesday was a crowd of 18,479, the largest in team history, and perhaps the largest collection of local fans the team has had all season at a home game. While the team admits it will make less money with this strategy, it is a small price to pay for developing what could become one of the best home-ice advantages in the NHL during the postseason.

“I think that’s the loudest I’ve heard this building,” said Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. “It was rocking. There was great intensity right from the start. The atmosphere in the building was awesome.”

The on-ice pregame show included a battle scene seemingly out “Game of Thrones” as a Golden Knight slayed a King at center ice before Vegas players stormed through an oversized Golden Knights helmet lowered from the rafters as the crowd stood and waved towels. There have been some wild pregame ceremonies in hockey, but this was arguably the craziest.

READ FULL STORY: http://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/23141603/2018-stanley-cup-playoffs-how-vegas-golden-knights-developed-nhl-best-home-ice-advantage-postseason

 

 

 

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