A “Kirill”ing Matchup

Minnesota Wild (35-16-5 75pts) v. Vegas Golden Knights (40-14-2 82pts)

Without further ado, the Stanley Cup playoffs are finally here hockey fans! And boy do we have an exciting matchup coming up between the Minnesota Wild and the Vegas Golden Knights. I’m Scott Fairchild, and I will be previewing and covering this exciting playoff matchup between the Wild and Golden Knights. Let’s take a look back and see how these two teams got invited to the big dance aka the Stanley Cup playoffs:

How did the Minnesota Wild get here?

After having a disappointing season last year and missing the playoffs, the Minnesota Wild rebounded to have a very nice bounce back season. Minnesota finished with a 35-16-5 record and finished third in the Honda West division. A lot of that is due to the emergence of rookie sensation and favorite to win the Calder Trophy in Kirill Kaprizov. The Wild and their fans waited around five years for Kaprizov to arrive in North America after being drafted in the fifth round. There’s always been this hype around his skill set as he dominated the KHL in Russia as well as winning an Olympic gold medal for his country back in 2018 scoring the gold medal winning goal in overtime. Kaprizov certainly did not disappoint and had a fantastic rookie season putting up fifty-one points (27g-24a-51pts) in fifty six regular season games. Minnesota improved in all facets of their game after having head coach Dean Evason for a full season. The Wild especially improved their penalty kill which was ranked 25th in the National Hockey League last season and bumped it up to 11th in the league. Minnesota also had solid goaltending with a tandem of Cam Talbot and rookie Kaapo Kahkonen. Dean Evason deserves a lot of credit for improving the Wild and getting them back into playoffs.

How did the Vegas Golden Knights get here?

Seeing the Golden Knights towards the top of the NHL standings is not a surprise. They almost won the President’s Trophy however, the Colorado Avalanche won it despite being tied with 82 points by having more regulation wins than the Golden Knights. Vegas is towards the top of the league standings as they feature great goaltending from Marc Andre Fleury and Robin Lehnar, a great defense, having solid two way players that can score, and owning the number one ranked penalty kill in the National Hockey League. Overall, the Golden Knights finished the regular season with a 40-14-2 record and 82 points.

How do these two teams matchup?

*Note: Minnesota Wild won the season series against the Golden Knights with a 4-3-1 record

Goaltending (Advantage: Vegas Golden Knights)

Vegas clearly has the advantage as goalies Marc Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner combined to win the Jennings trophy and helping their team have the fewest goals allowed throughout the season. Marc Andre Fleury in particular has been spectacular and is definitely in the conversation of possibly winning the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender. Lehner when called upon was fantastic in between the pipes for the Golden Knights. Minnesota had solid goaltending from veteran Cam Talbot and rookie Kaapo Kahkonen. However as solid as they were, they’re not on the elite level yet of what the Golden Knights can throw out there on the ice in goal.

Forwards (Advantage: Vegas Golden Knights)

Vegas features two players over fifty points, two over forty, and four players with over thirty points. Captain Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty who are first and second on the team in scoring while secondary scoring comes from players like Jonathan Marchesault, William Karlsson, Chandler Stephenson, and Alex Tuch. Minnesota doesn’t have quite the same firepower that the Golden Knights have but they aren’t slouches. The Wild feature young super star Kirill Kaprizov along with Kevin Fiala, veteran Mats Zucarello, Jordan Greenway, and Joel Eriksson Ek. Overall, Vegas have more players that put more goals on the scoreboard.

Defense (Even): To be honest, I think both defenses are very good. Vegas has more two way defenders who can play both sides of the game offensively and defensively. However, Minnesota has more players that focus more on playing a great defensive game. Both D corps are very good and can make this series a close and competitive one

Power Play (Even): both the Wild and Golden Knights power play are ranked outside the top twenty and rank 22nd & 23rd respectively. Both teams tend to rely on scoring more goals during five on five play. It’s not to say that they can’t score on the power-play as both teams have players that can produce with the man advantage. This will be something to watch throughout the series as power plays are important to a team success in winning a Stanley Cup.

Penalty Kill (Advantage): Vegas Golden Knights): clearly Vegas has the advantage as they have the number one ranked penalty kill in the league. However, Minnesota is ranked 11th and they have a pretty good penalty kill themselves. They worked really hard to improve it from last season and improve they definitely did. However, what makes Vegas’ PK better is their goaltending, defensemen, and having former Selke Trophy nominee Mark Stone. Both teams do a great job here but the Golden Knights definitely have the advantage.

3 Keys to the series for both teams

Minnesota Wild

1) Kaprizov and Fiala must produce

2) Goaltending and special teams

3) Secondary scoring

Vegas Golden Knights

1) Goaltending remains elite

2) Power play produces

3) Shutdown Kaprizov & Fiala

My prediction: Vegas in 6 games

Vegas has all the ingredients necessary to make another run back to the Stanley Cup finals like they did back in 2018. They are very good all over the ice and have great goaltending. I am expecting them to win this series however, I do have a tiny bit of doubt. Minnesota had their number this season and the last few matchups in particular saw them handle the Golden Knights very well. The Wild can give the Golden Knights some trouble as they did matchup against them very well. At best this series could go seven but I honestly don’t see it and think Vegas moves onto round 2.

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