The Vegas Golden Knights and the San Jose Sharks have been waiting patiently to get back into playoff action. Vegas completed its sweep of the Los Angeles Kings on April 17. A day later, San Jose ousted the Anaheim Ducks. Since then, both teams have spent the better part of the last two weeks studying the competition as the anticipation of the second round continued to build. On Thursday, the Sharks and Golden Knights will begin a second-round series that is almost-guaranteed not to disappoint.
The Golden Knights have been one of the most amazing stories in the NHL, and even professional sports this year. Despite prognostications to the following, Vegas has defied logic and become a legitimate Stanly Cup contender. San Jose, of course, has other ideas. The Sharks perceive their best shot to get back to the Final since finishing as runner-up in 2016. Its playoff-tested roster is packed with veterans in their primes and should give Vegas its toughest test yet. Here’s the tale of the tape:
Regular Season Meetings (Golden Knights won 3, Sharks won 1):
November 24, 2017: Golden Knights 5, Sharks 4 (OT)
February 8, 2018: Gilden Knights 5, Sharks 3
March 22, 2018: Sharks 2, Golden Knights 1 (OT)
March 31, 2018: Golden Knights 3, Sharks 2
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Perhaps one of this series most intriguing matchups might be one that is possible, instead of definite. Joe Thornton’s injury could loom large. Should he return, it will be interesting to see how he might help to tip the scales in San Jose’s favor. The Sharks attack north-south, threaten with great speed in transition and can roll out four scoring lines. The bottom trio of Marcus Sorensen, Eric Fehr, and Melker Karlsson combined for four goals in the first round. Although there might be some rink rust from someone that misses time, Thornton is a seasoned pro and would only enhance the Sharks chances.
Evander Kane has been dynamite since his acquisition from the Buffalo Sabres prior to the NHL trade deadline, one of the best moves around the league. Martin Jones has carried his regular season success into the playoffs and looks like a formidable netminder. Vegas counters with a stellar William Karlsson-Jonathan-Marchessault-Reilly Smith line. However, the deciding factor in the series looks to be Marc-Andre Fleury, who is currently the hottest goaltender in the playoffs.
The Vegas Golden Knights have exceeded all expectations this season, thus far. They defied regular season expectations, They made the playoffs, and swept the Kings in the first round, Few saw it coming. However, it does not make it any less true.
Here in Round Two, they face a deeper and more-experienced Sharks team. For the record, San Jose also swept its opponent — the Ducks — in the first round. They not only received solid production from their top offensive performers (Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane) in Round One, but their depth play (led by Marcus Sorenson) was terrific. The Sharks averaged four goals per game against Anaheim and also scored on 30 percent of their power plays, while allowing only one more goal than Vegas did in the opening round, four in total.
The Golden Knights’ team defense and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will need to be the backbone while competing against a much more dangerous opponent. However, Vegas is capable of mounting an offensive attack that will make them a tough out in this series. The Golden Knights won three of four from San Jose in the regular season with three of the four games decided by one goal, and two decided in overtime.
While San Jose is firing on all cylinders. Fleury’s hot goaltending will, indeed, be the deciding factor in this series. Look for this one to go seven, in what has the makings of a true classic.
Prediction: Golden Knights in 7 games
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the NFL and the NHL. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC