The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs kicked off this weekend. Last Word On Hockey will have previews, analysis, and recaps for all the series so be sure to check those out. The Minnesota Wild vs Vegas Golden Knights will kick off their series Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas. We will take a deep look at the matchup, forwards, defence, and goaltending on both sides to determine who has the advantage.
Minnesota Wild vs Vegas Golden Knights 2021 First Round Playoffs Preview
These two West Division teams will face each other for the first time in the postseason. The Vegas Golden Knights have only been in existence since 2017-18 and the Minnesota Wild hold an 11-2-3 record during the regular seasons they’ve faced one another. The Vegas team has not had such great success against the Wild this season with just a 3-4-1 record. The second and third seeded teams finished just seven points apart with Vegas accumulating 82 points, while the Minnesota team had 75 points.
All regular season records have been wiped clean as the postseason begins an entire new season… the one where a Cup is awarded to the best team. Both of these teams have their qualities, weaknesses, and strengths to take them to the Final.
The Minnesota Wild Have One Fantastic Rookie
Kirill Kaprizov has had one great rookie year. His 27 goals and 24 assists in 52 games may very well earn him the Calder Trophy awarded to the best rookie. All Kaprizov needs to concentrate on now is beating the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round. The Wild only had one other 20-goal scorer and that was Kevin Fiala. They will need to continue their excellent play when they won seven straight from April 14th to the 24th. They average 3.21 goals a game, which ranks them ninth in the NHL. Their powerplay is a bit weak at just 17.6 percent ranking them 24th. They rank 28th in shots per game, which needs to improve against a strong team like Vegas.
The key will be if the Wild can get Kaprizov the puck because the kid knows what to do with it. Some of his moves are extraordinary. If Vegas can stop him, they will do themselves well. If Vegas allows Mats Zuccarello and Kaprizov to do their thing together, it may be a long series for the Golden Knights.
Wild Defence Will be Busy
The Vegas club can score at a 3.39 goals per game clip. Stopping some of the Vegas forwards won’t be easy. Defencemen Jared Spurgeon and Mathew Dumba will have their jobs cut out for them. Yet, the Wild were not bad defensively allowing 2.84 goals a game. The key will be stopping the Vegas rush as they are one of the best at getting an early lead and protecting it. The Wild need to hold the Vegas forwards perhaps at centre ice if possible and don’t allow them to skate freely into the offensive zone untouched. It will burn them, and even with their success against Vegas, they need to step it up a notch or two to keep the talented Golden Knights forwards from going crazy.
With rejuvenated Cam Talbot showing he still has it a 33 years old, the Wild have a good combo of goalies. Backup Kaapo Kahkonen had a respectable 16-8 record with a .902 save percentage and a 2.88 goals-against-average. Still Talbot’s 19-8-5 record holding a .915 save percentage and a 2.63 goals-against-average has got to be your guy in net. He has led the team through the regular season in good fashion, so putting him in goal will definitely help their chances.
Vegas Golden Knights Offence is Impressive
The Golden Knights had the best offence in the NHL this season scoring 3.39 goals a game. Mark Stone was their leading scorer and captain with 21 goals and 40 assists. Then, Max Pacioretty had 24 goals and 27 assists. The Vegas team may be short handed as both Pacioretty and Alec Martinez will be game-time decisions. Losing one of their stars on offence and defence could be a negative for the high rolling Vegas team. They are deep enough to manage it, yet being without two key players is not an ideal way of starting as playoff series. Both Stone and Pacioretty have collected six powerplay tallies, so losing Pacioretty could be a huge loss.
Shea Theodore has been great on the Vegas blueline with eight goals and 34 assists in 43 games. He has excellent possession stats too with a 55.5 Corsi For and a 2.7 Relative Corsi. Don’t forget that the Golden Knights have Alex Pietrangelo too. He contributed seven goals and 23 points in 41 games. Pietrangelo also had 80 blocks and 28 hits for his $8.8 million compensation. If the team is without Martinez, they will need to rely more on young Zach Whitecloud who has performed well this season.
How can any NHL team going into the playoffs wish for anything more than Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner between the pipes? Fleury has been fabulous with a 26-10 record carrying a .928 save percentage along with a 1.98 goals-against-average. Lehner isn’t far behind with a 13-4-2 record and a .913 save percentage and a 2.29 goals-against-average. Fleury will more than likely be the starter and Lehner the backup. Having two very qualified and downright dominant goalies is vital in the playoffs.
Minnesota Wild vs Vegas Golden Knights Series Prediction
This will be a hard fought series and most think with Vegas having such a great offence and defence supplemented by stellar goaltending that they will be difficult to beat. Yet, the Wild have figured out how to do that. If the Vegas team can stop Kaprizov they have a shot. If the Wild can score against Fleury, then they have a chance. Even with both teams able to score, this first game may be a low scoring affair.
Don’t downplay the play of Mark Stone, he is a gamer and a great competitor. The Vegas team is just too much for the Wild and in the end, one team must go away the winner.
That winner will be the Vegas Golden Knights in six games. Fleury will dominate. Don’t miss it!