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Vegas must turn attention to offseason following elimination

The top-seeded Vegas Golden Knights found out just how hard it can be going from the hunter to the hunted.

The Knights were bounced from the NHL playoffs at the hands of the Dallas Stars and have been sent home from the bubble in Edmonton.

Since 2009, 15 different teams have competed for the Stanley Cup. Sixteen if you include, this year’s Dallas Stars’ team.

Despite the early exit, Vegas turned in a season with many highlights and notable takeaways.

For instance, the team kept constant pressure on opposing goalies ranking No. 1 in shots on goal during the regular season this year.

Three different players scored 50-plus points (Reilly Smith 54, Mark Stone 63 and Max Pacioretty 66). In addition, four players turned in 20-plus goals (Mark Stone 21, Jonathan Marchessault 22, Reilly Smith 27 and Max Pacioretty 32).

Knights goalie and future hall-of-famer Marc Andre-Fleury went 27-16 during the regular season giving up 133 goals while facing just under 1,400 shots in 2,881 minutes of action.

However, Vegas traded for Robin Lehner of the Chicago Blackhawks in February and Lehner would become the body between the poles down-the-stretch.

Lehner went 3-0 in 180 minutes of play on the ice, allowing five goals to score in 83 shots against.

This year’s journey was much different than that of any other year considering the coronavirus pandemic.

Vegas had a 39-24-8 record at the end of play in March and would become the No. 1 seed after going 3-0 in the seeding round robin games, firmly placing the proverbial target on their backs.

In the team’s first year in Vegas in 2018, the Knights shocked the world winning 51 games during the regular season before sweeping the Los Angeles Kings in four games, toppling the San Jose Sharks in six games and making quick work of the Winnipeg Jets in five games.

Ultimately, the team would lose in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Washington Capitals in five games.

The following year, Vegas tallied 43 wins but would be eliminated from the postseason in seven games by the Sharks.

In a shortened season this time around, the Knights drew Lehner’s former team, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the first round of the playoffs.

Things were looking up after the first three games with Vegas holding a 3-0 series lead after wins by a score of 4-1, 4-3 in overtime and 2-1.

Right-wing Reilly Smith proved too much to handle in the first two games tallying three total goals including the game-winner in game two and an assist.

Chicago would battle back and take game four but would be closed out in game 5, losing 4-3.

Lehner was the goalie for four of the five games in the series, coming away with three of the Knights’ four wins.

In the following round, Vegas would need a full seven games to extinguish the Vancouver Canucks.

The series provided fans with a series tie at 1 game apiece and three games apiece, with games providing goals by the boatload.

However, the Knights did blow a 3-1 lead after losing games five and six (3-0, 5-3).

By series end, Vegas held a 19-14 goal advantage over the Canucks.

Despite the abundance of goals, the series saw three shutouts handed out by Vegas, all of which came with Lehner between the pipes.

Moreover, all of his shutouts were timely coming with the series tied either 0-0, 1-1 or 3-3.

In that deciding game 7, Lehner only saw 14 shots come his way.

The Dallas Stars would provide the next test for the Knights in the Western Conference Finals, which proved to be just too much.

Vegas lost game one, 1-0, then won game two, 3-0.

Following game two, the Golden Knights would lose three straight games for the first time since January.

All three losses were by a goal, with two of them going into overtime.

In addition, Vegas held leads in games four and five.

It’s interesting to note that the Knights outshot the Stars in all but one game and in that game they tied. Overall, Vegas held the shot advantage 166 to 118 over Dallas.

The Stars ranked second in the NHL in goals against this season.

Yet, whenever the Knights got physical with the Stars, the latter just matched the intensity at every turn.

Vegas had 22 chances at power play goals but could only come away with three goals. On the other hand, Dallas turned in the same three power play goals but in nine fewers attempts.

Heading into the offseason, the Golden Knights have six free agents (four unrestricted and two restricted) led by Lehner.

In addition to Lehner, defensemen Deryk Engelland and Jon Merrill who are two of the 13 players who have tallied at least 17:00 minutes of time on ice per game.

Center Tomas Nosek is also a free agent after posting a career-high eight goals in back-to-back years.

The two restricted free agents are centers Chandler Stephenson and Nick Cousins.

Stephenson had the best plus/minus of any Golden Knight player at +19 while Cousins only played in seven games for Vegas after being traded from Montreal.


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