The Vegas Golden Knights’ dream inaugural season will conclude with a Stanley Cup showdown against either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Washington Capitals.
It’s not a scenario many, if anyone, would’ve predicted at the start of the playoffs let alone at the beginning of the season. Almost equally as surprising, however, has been the breakout campaign we’ve seen from William Karlsson.
The Swedish forward became perhaps the most unlikely 40-goal scorer in NHL history this past season when he tallied 43 times, nearly quintupling his previous career high of nine goals.
Golden Knights head coach Gerrard Gallant had a rather simple explanation for why Karlsson took his game to new levels in 2017-18.
“He took advantage of ice time,” Gallant said Monday during an appearance on Hockey Central at Noon. “He took advantage of playing with two guys that’ve been really solid hockey players that I know pretty well in Reilly Smith and [Jonathan] Marchessault, and they clicked from day one when they went together.”
It’s not outlandish to say that trio was the best line in the NHL during the regular season—the Bruins top unit of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak also have a strong case—and they’ve continued to thrive in the playoffs.
Karlsson’s goal-scoring pace has slowed slightly in the playoffs, but only Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine scored more times than Karlsson did. He also tied for second in the league with four short-handed goals.
The 25-year-old has six goals and seven assists in 15 post-season games thus far.
“It’s all confidence,” Gallant added. “I mean, he’s got a lot of confidence. You watch him pay and he plays a two-way game and I think when you play good defensive hockey you get more scoring chances because you pay a price down there and it leads to more offence, so I think that line does a good job when they do that.”
It’s a rudimentary rationale for that line’s success, and Gallant also had a straightforward explanation for how his team has managed to go on their improbable run.
“Well, it’s just, I mean we played real good hockey,” Gallant said. “People ask me if I thought about this back in October. Obviously I didn’t but I thought we had a decent team. And then come January around the all-star break our team was playing real well and playing against top teams and beating top teams. At that time I said, ‘We’re a good hockey team. We got a chance to beat any team on any given night and who knows where it’s going to go?’”
Gallant continued: “I mention it all the time, we got great leaders in that room and they know what it takes to do it. Marc-Andre Fleury, [Deryk] Engelland, James Neal, all those guys they’re good leaders for our group and as a coach there’s nothing better than having those type of players in your locker room. …
“I think the big thing is there’s no pressure on us. We just go play and we have fun. Everybody wants to win and everybody wants to battle but I think the less pressure you put on people the better they perform.”