The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin for Vegas on Wednesday

Five other series begin on Thursday

Paul Hamilton
April 10, 2018 - 1:40 pm

Photo: Stephen R. Sylvanie - USA TODAY Sports

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(WGR 550) - There wasn’t anybody that thought the Vegas Golden Knights would make the playoffs, yet win the Pacific Division by eight points.

The expansion team set records, going 51-24-7 for 109 points. Vegas will be part of Wednesday’s action as the NHL playoffs get underway.

The first NHL playoff game ever in Las Vegas will feature the Golden Knight against Los Angeles.

Vegas was ranked fifth in the NHL, while the Kings were 12th.

When it comes to the Golden Knights, they were fifth in the league scoring at 3.27 goals per-game. Injuries forced them into using five goalies, and that resulted in a 2.74 goals against, which was eighth in the league.

Three-time Stanley Cup Champion Marc-Andre Fleury was the backbone for Vegas. He went 29-13-4 with a goals against of 2.24 and a save percentage of .927.

Fleury has played in 115 playoff games, going 62-51. His save percentage is only .908 and I don’t think that will get it done. His goals against is 2.65.

Offensively, William Karlsson had a career year. Coming into the season, Karlsson had 18 career goals in 183 games. This season, he netted 43 goals and 78 points.

Erik Haula had 29 goals, while Jonathan Marchessault had 27. James Neal missed 11 games and still chipped in with 25 goals.

Colin Miller adds to the offense from the blue line as does Nate Schmidt.

The Kings live on their defense, leading the NHL with a 2.46 goals against. Offensively, L.A. is 16th overall.

Part of the Kings success in also being No. 1 when shorthanded.

Goalie Jonathan Quick got his save percentage over .920 for the first time since 2011-12. His playoff save percentage is .921 over 81 games.

Quick has won two Stanley Cups and is 46-35 over his career. His last time in the playoffs was two years ago and in a five-game series loss, he was horrendous.

The reason the Kings are back in the playoff is Quick played well and Anze Kopitar not only rebounded from his worst NHL season, he had his best year. Kopitar went from 12 goals to 35, 40 assists to 57, and 52 points to 92 points.

The Kings' captain is known for his defense to go with pretty good offense. He won the Selke Trophy two years ago and is always in the running for it.

Kopitar has won two Cups and in 75 playoff games, he has 20 goals and 64 points.

Drew Doughty is one of the best defensemen in the NHL. He had 50 assists and 60 points, but he’s a hard defenseman in his own end too. Doughty won the Norris Trophy two years ago. 

Dustin Brown is 33 and he had his second best scoring season with 28 goals.

Los Angeles added Dion Phaneuf from Ottawa and he will likely end up on the Kings' third pair. Jake Muzzin was hurt late in the season and he’s a big part of the Kings' defense.

John Muckler once told me the playoffs are a process and that could be true for the Golden Knights.

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One other Western Conference series gets underway on Wednesday as Minnesota travels to Winnipeg.

The Jets are the second seed in the NHL, while Minnesota ranks eighth. The whole problem here is the Wild’s best player, Ryan Suter, is out for the season. I have trouble seeing Minnesota even winning a game without him. Jared Spurgeon has been hurt, but he’s back on the ice.

Devan Dubnyk was down this season, but don’t forget, goals were up in the NHL.

Eric Staal is amazing in Minnesota. Many thought he was washed up, but the former Hurricane captain had 42 goals this season. Jason Zucker added 33 and Zach Parise got hot late after being hurt for the first half of the season.

Winnipeg seems to have everything it needs. This is a team that developed through the draft and made some smart trades.

The Jets finally got great goaltending and it came from Connor Hellebuyck. Hellebuyck had a .924 save percentage and went 44-11-9.

If there’s one worry about Hellebuyck, it’s he’s never played a professional playoff game. Some goalies do very well in the regular season, but have trouble in the playoffs. It’ll be interesting to see how this 24-year-old reacts.

The Jets were fifth in the league in goals against and second in goals scored.

You can’t just shutdown young gunner Patrik Laine. The kid had 44 goals, but if you stop him, there’s Kyle Conner (31 goals), Nic Ehlers (29 goals), Blake Wheeler (23 goals) and Mark Scheifele (23 goals in 60 games).

Winnipeg acquired Paul Stastny from St. Louis at the trade deadline.

This team can skate and they tend to dominate at times. You won’t see a trap or a lock with this group.

On defense, Jacob Trouba was dealing with an injury at the end of the season, but they still have Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Josh Morrissey.

Winnipeg was 3-1-0 against the Wild this season.

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Only one Eastern Conference series starts on Wednesday as No. 13 Philadelphia heads to play No. 10 Pittsburgh. This is the seventh time these two teams have met in the playoffs with Philadelphia winning four times.

The Penguins are two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, but to do that, they’ve played a lot of hockey. If you remember back in 2012, defense was not played when these two teams met. In six games there were almost 60 goals scored.

Evgeni Malkin was the leader this season for the Pens with 42 goals and 98 points. Sidney Crosby’s goals were down with 29, but his points remained the same at 89.

Phil Kessel just hangs out and is Phil Kessel. He scored 34 goals and 92 points.

The Pens lead the league on the power play, and that could be a factor as the Flyers rank 29th on the penalty kill.

Pittsburgh is third in the league in goals scored, but is 20th in goals against.

Matt Murray had injuries this season and in 49 games, his save percentage was .907. Murray has been in the league for pretty much one year and two playoffs and won two Stanley Cups. If the Penguins are going to have any success this year, Murray will have to get back to his playoff save percentage of .928.

Pittsburgh traded with Ottawa to get Derick Brassard, but he got hurt.

Flyers captain Claude Giroux had three consecutive seasons of 73 points, 67 points and 58 points. This year, he willed the Flyers into the playoffs, scoring 34 goals and 68 assists for 102 points.

Jakub Voracek added 65 assists of his own, while Sean Couturier had a very hot start that ended with 31 goals.

Philadelphia took Nolan Patrick with the second overall pick in June. Patrick had 13 goals and 30 points on the season, but in his last 23 games, the rookie had 16 points.

Philadelphia’s problem, as it has been for years, is in goal. Brian Elliott missed most of the end of the season with an injury, but did shut out the Rangers on the season’s final day.

In a desperation move, the Flyers traded with Detroit to get Petr Mrazek, but that’s not an answer.

Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere are decent defensemen, but are better on the offensive side. Despite being young, the Flyers' D is fourth best in the NHL giving up 29.9 shots per game. 

Pittsburgh won all four regular season meetings.

If the Flyers can figure out a way to stop the Penguins' power play, this could be a long series. The other five series begin on Thursday.

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