Post-season heroes come in all forms from the star player to the unknown fourth-liner. We all know the exploits of the great playoff performers. However, we hardly hear about the unlikely playoff heroes. These unlikely post-season stars can contribute in many ways. Contributions could be for an entire playoff run, a series, a game or even a goal. These unlikely heroes have made big plays that no one expects. This series looks at all of these unknown stars. These are the unlikely Vegas Golden Knights playoff heroes.
Vegas Golden Knights Playoff Heroes
Before the Moment
What better place to start than the beginning? Vegas came roaring into the NHL, turning the “Us against Them” story of an expansion team into their strength. With a city recovering from one of the worst shootings in American history, the Golden Knights were embraced. And boy howdy, did they return the favour. All season long, observers watched for a fall that never happened. Instead, they racked up 51 wins in their inaugural season, finishing first in the Pacific and easily making the playoffs. NOW, the story went, they were going to come crashing back to Earth. Sure, they had an exciting team, but that was for the regular season. What were they going to do when things got serious?
Beat the playoff-experienced Los Angeles Kings in four straight, as it happens.
It all started with their first game, and it started early. Shea Theodore was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in return for a promise to leave Josh Manson alone and take the retiring Clayton Stoner instead. By the time expansion happened, Theodore had shown promise. Manson was slightly further along, though, and the Ducks put their money on him. Theodore started the season in the AHL but earned a call-up by the end of October. He played 61 games that season and started the playoffs alongside the rest of the Golden Knights. His shot from the middle of the blue line is in the record books as not only the first Vegas playoff goal but the first game-winner, being the only one scored that day. The fans didn’t seem to mind.
Theodore would score twice more that playoff season and add seven assists in 20 games. He would go on to have increasing importance for the Golden Knights, coming sixth in Norris voting. Josh Manson, on the other hand, is building a decent career with the Ducks as a solid defensive defenceman. Still valuable, but not likely to reach the level Theodore is at. Especially given Theodore’s 27 points in 27 playoff games since his 2018 Stanley Cup run.
Before the Moment
Going from the first playoff goal to the last one of the series and another defenceman. Brayden McNabb was the kind of player Vegas was supposed to be filled with. Solid if unremarkable guys, third-pair or third-liners. He got five more minutes a game in Gerard Gallant‘s “everyone plays” system, but he wasn’t there to score. Five goals and 15 points in 79 regular-season games was a nice bonus to add to his 200+ hits. Otherwise? He’s the shut-down guy plucked from the Kings in the expansion draft and put to good use.
And how more fitting could this be? McNabb had 322 NHL games under his belt before this one, and it showed. He recognized when William Karlsson got the puck deep to Reilly Smith a gap would open up, and he went for it. The result gave McNabb his first playoff point and Vegas the only goal they would need. It was the only one scored that night, and with it, the Golden Knights would go on to face the San Jose Sharks in the second round.
McNabb scored once more in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and those two remain his only playoff goals so far. The Golden Knights are happy with the game he continues to play for them, though, with over 200 hits in each of the past two seasons.
Before the Moment
It looks odd to pick Robin Lehner in retrospect, but there is a story here. Original Golden Knight Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t have a great playoff run the previous season. He was brilliant the year before, but time marches on. Indeed, he was in the midst of one of his worst regular seasons in 2019-20 when the team got Lehner. Lehner was keeping the Chicago Blackhawks afloat, which didn’t really mesh with the rebuilding team’s objectives. The three regular-season games he played for Vegas solidified his position as the starter when the playoffs began.
In a bizarre turn, the first team Vegas faced were those same Blackhawks, and he didn’t look great against them. Lehner gave up just nine goals in four games but had just a .905 save percentage. That was against the nineteenth-highest-scoring Chicago. How would he do against the ninth-highest Vancouver Canucks?
The Canucks, for all their scoring, were a young team who should have been happy to reach the second season. The experienced veterans in Vegas should be able to take them out easily enough. And they did… right until they didn’t. The first game shutout was a cakewalk. The ones after that made it interesting. Lehner had to match what was suddenly a goaltender’s duel. Fortunately for the Golden Knights, the 6’4″ Lehner was up to the task. He finished the series playing in six games and getting three shutouts on the way. And when you get three shutouts in a single series but that series goes the full seven games? You’re the MVP. And given how the previous series went, Lehner’s a suitable unlikely Vegas Golden Knights playoff hero.
The Golden Knights couldn’t make it back to the Stanly Cup Final that year, but Lehner signed a new five-year deal. This leaves Fleury and his remaining two years looking for a new home. It’s a move we’re sure coach Peter DeBoer is looking forward to.
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