Five years ago, a collection of castoffs shocked the NHL. The Vegas Golden Knights made it to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, ultimately losing to the Washington Capitals in five games.
Six Golden Knights players who appeared in that series remain with the team — William Carrier, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Brayden McNabb, Reilly Smith and Shea Theodore. All of them have played a role in getting the Golden Knights back to the final, where they will face the Florida Panthers starting Saturday in Las Vegas.
Specifically, Karlsson and Marchessault have raised their games in these playoffs, combining for 19 goals and 31 points.
Karlsson’s 10 goals are a single-postseason franchise record, but his defensive performance has been equally if not more impressive. The Golden Knights have allowed five goals at 5-on-5 with Karlsson on the ice in the playoffs. As Vegas’ shutdown centre, Karlsson has locked down the likes of Kyle Connor, Connor McDavid and Jason Robertson through the first three rounds.
Karlsson is a menace in the neutral zone, ranking second out of 94 forwards (min. 100 minutes) with 1.27 blocked passes per 20 at 5-on-5 in that section of the ice. His 4.64 loose puck recoveries in the neutral zone are fifth most.
“I’ll compare (Karlsson) to (Patrice) Bergeron,” Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy, who worked with the five-time Selke Trophy winner in Boston, told reporters during the second round. “(Bergeron’s) not the biggest guy either, but he finds ways to get over the top of people. He’s got a good stick and he’s physical when he needs to (be).”
After starting the playoffs with two assists in his first seven games, Marchessault has been on a tear. He has nine goals and 15 points over the past 10 games, including four goals and a team-high seven points against the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final. Marchessault’s 21 scoring chances and eight shots on net from the inner slot at 5-on-5 are most on the team over that 10-game span. (Seven of his nine playoff goals have come from the inner slot, where around 53 per cent of all goals have been scored this postseason.)
The Panthers will have their hands full with the Golden Knights’ top line of Marchessault, Jack Eichel and Ivan Barbashev, which has controlled close to 60 per cent of expected goals and outscored opponents 12-4 at 5-on-5.
The other holdovers have made their presence felt as well. Carrier’s 4.49 puck-battle wins per 20 at 5-on-5 lead all qualified forwards. McNabb is a top shot blocker who protects the house better than most defencemen, averaging 7.01 defensive plays (shot blocks, pass blocks, stick checks and body checks) per 20 at 5-on-5 in his own zone. That is the top mark among 76 defencemen who have played at least 100 minutes in the playoffs.
If the Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup, the fingerprints of the remaining original members will be all over the series and the trophy.
“That first year was just kind of a whirlwind,” Karlsson told reporters after the Golden Knights eliminated the Stars. “You’ve never been there before. Everything was just kind of flowing. Maybe (we) took it for granted a little bit back then. Now, five (or) six years later, there’s been up and downs, and you realize that this opportunity doesn’t come around too often.”