LAS VEGAS – Missing one game in the Western Conference final was hard for David Perron. Waiting 11 years to play in the third round of the National Hockey League playoffs was excruciating.
Perron skated Wednesday morning with the Vegas Golden Knights and looked well enough to play Game 3 of the conference final against the Winnipeg Jets, although the winger’s inclusion in Wednesday night’s lineup was to be a game-time decision.
“You’ll find out tonight,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said.
Having seen this stage of the Stanley Cup tournament only on television, Perron is desperate to play. It’s a little startling, considering he has been a good player on some very good teams the last decade, that Perron is this deep into the playoffs for the first time.
“Eleven years and you get to go past the second round for the first time, basically on a team that no one expected,” Perron told Sportsnet on Wednesday. “It’s very special.
“It’s not the way I pictured the year, starting in October. But when we started putting the work together, everyone getting the belief system to be higher and higher, maybe by December or January we were hoping to be in the playoffs. We started to shed away the ‘expansion team’ label in here, and we started to believe we’re just one of the teams in the NHL and we can compete like everybody else.
“It just shows that any team is not that far away; you just have to have the right mindset, the right mentality, the right coaches to believe in guys and stick with their guys.”
And, of course, the right players.
Perron has been a fairly important component on good teams in St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Anaheim. Throw out his full season in Edmonton during the hopeless era before Connor McDavid arrived and the 29-year-old from Sherbrooke, Que., has made the playoffs for six straight years.
But last season, with the St. Louis Blues, was just the second time in his career that Perron made it past the Stanley Cup’s opening round. The Blues were eliminated in six second-round games by the Nashville Predators, the same team that won Game 7 against Perron’s Anaheim Ducks in Round 1 the previous year.
That was the season, 2015-16, when the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins traded him to Ducks in January for Carl Hagelin and went on to win the Stanley Cup without him.
When the Knights claimed him from the Blues in last June’s expansion draft, Perron, who turns 30 in two weeks, worried his best chances to win a championship might be behind him.
“Exactly,” he said. “It takes a good whack at you a little bit because you don’t expect to win this year (with an expansion team) and you wonder what will happen after that. This definitely was a truly unique experience and I’m lucky to be a part of it. We just want to keep it going as long as possible.
“The interesting thing is I feel like the group in here has really kept the same mentality this year no matter what. Even at this point, we know the pressure and everything is so high, but most guys, we just keep playing like normal. It’s been great to see the success.”
Playing mostly on Vegas’ second line with James Neal and Erik Haula, Perron was among the many Knights who had a career year, amassing 66 points in 70 games.
But he missed the final six regular-season games with an upper-body injury, and didn’t return until the third game of the Knights’ first-round sweep of the Los Angeles Kings.
He has seven points – all assists – in nine playoff games, but neither he nor his line has been at their best. Alex Tuch will stay with Neal and Haula if Perron can’t go in Game 3.
“They’ll be better tonight,” Gallant said of the line. “They’ll get some scoring opportunities and, like I said, it’s about competing and battling and getting to the net. Some nights, it’s different lines that are going to take your game to the next level. I think they’ll be ready to go.”
It’s possible Perron’s absence in Game 2 was related to his previous injury.
“It’s tough,” Perron said. “I came back from an injury the first series and was just trying to get my feet wet. I felt like the second part of last round I was really starting to come on the way I played in the season. . . and this happened again. I’m hoping I get my feet under me as soon as possible. We’re going to talk to a few people and then go from there. It’s going to be a game-time decision.”
• One Knight definitely unavailable is backup goalie Malcolm Subban, out day-to-day with an undisclosed injury or illness. Minor-leaguer Maxime Lagace, who had a ghastly .867 save percentage in 16 appearances for the Knights this season, will back up Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 3. Lagace was one of five goalkeepers Vegas used during an injury crisis last fall.