Now that we’ve officially buried the Predators, it’s time to look forward to the West Final. I feel like we’ve gotten to the point, or maybe I just have personally, where it’s time to stop fighting against the Knights. Because if nothing else, this series is going to be in 5th gear or however long it lasts. We didn’t quite get the Fury Road remake we wanted in the previous round, as the Preds could only win when they pumped the brakes on everything. The Knights aren’t capable, and don’t know, any other way than what got them here.
Goalies: That’s the strange thing about this series, is that no matter the speeds it attains, the vapor trails it leaves, or however many chances are created, it could still end up 2-1 for every game. That’s how well these two goalies are playing.
There’s really nothing to say about Marc-Andre Fleury at this point. He’s clearly gotten hold of some eye of newt or something. You can’t even say his defense helped him out, because he made over 30 saves in the first four games of the San Jose series. Granted, two of those were OT games but that’s still work. A .951 is a .951, much like a football in the groin is a football in the groin. He’s .965 at evens.
The one thing you can say is that Fleury hasn’t really seen a team of assassins in the first two rounds. The Kings plan of attack was hoping the Knights would pass out from boredom. The Sharks had two lines or so going, but without Thornton they were certainly limited. There are no such limits to the Jets, and you feel like Fleury is going to have to come up with a handful of 35-40 save performances just to keep the Knights in this.
It’s kind of weird that Connor Hellebuyck has a .940 at evens and he’s not even close to the other goalie in this series. Hellebuyck was marvelous in Game 7 after being pretty wonky in Game 6. He buckled under the pressure of the Predators at times when they were still trying to drag race with the Jets, and the Knights won’t shrink from that at any point. So he’s going to need more of his 36-save performance form from Game 7 than how he was early in the series.
Defense: You’d say this is the Jets’ biggest advantage, but much like the Penguins before them the Knights do the best they can to take their defense out of the equation. They don’t really care how many chances they give up, especially with Fleury playing like this, as long as they can turn the puck up the other way quickly. Still, that feels like death against this Jets team, who simply have more talented scorers and offensive players and I don’t care if William Karlsson shoots 76% this series. This defense is not keeping this Winnipeg hit squad from creating a ton of chances, and that seems like it’s going to be the end of it. McNabb, Engelland, and Theodore are going to smell distinctly of burnt wood by Game 3.
The Jets might have the same problems. With Byfuglien wandering all over the ice and not showing much interested in either being where he’s supposed to be or ignoring players who don’t matter, there’s going to be plenty of space for the Knights, too. Tyler Myers has some of the same issues and Ben Chiarot looks a lot like the Bears’ free safeties of this decade in trying to cover for him. Trouba and Morrison are going to get a lot of work in this series, and Maurice should be playing them the most instead of DAT BIG BUCK GUY. But he won’t, and he’ll pay at some point. Still, the Jets defense contributes more than the Knights’, and is a little more mobile.
Forwards: This is the fun part. The Knights top two lines have been excellent, but their bottom two weren’t as effective in the second round. Still, it’s packed with speed that’s going to have a lot of space to exploit.
The problem for the Knights is that the Jets have the same thing, except every line they have is better than the one Vegas has. Their top line is better, their second line is better, and so on. The Knights have seen this before, but not over seven games and not this big of a difference. If the Jets can go toe-to-toe with the Preds and beat them to a pulp in that style, they can do the same to the Knights. Like we said in the last round, the Jets only have to match or thereabouts the amount of chances their opponents get, because their talent says they’ll bury more of them. Same holds true here.
Prediction: Obviously, the Knights have something unquantifiable going on here. And if they maintain silly shooting-percentages along with Fleury being a an absurdist exhibition, they can win this. But the Knights need the unexplainable. The Jets don’t. They can skate all day with Vegas, and they have the better players to do it. Something strange definitely can happen here, but you don’t bank on that. Fleury himself probably assures this is a long series. I was tempted to say the Jets in five simply because of the disparity in scoring talent up and down the lineup, but beating Fleury four out of five times, without a return to his previous playoff form, is unlikely. So we’ll call it Jets in 6.