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5 Keys: Golden Knights at Sharks, Game 1

Fleury gives Vegas advantage in goal; Karlsson, Burns need to be difference-makers for San Jose

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist


10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS2, ATTSN-RM

The San Jose Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights will begin their playoff rematch in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round at SAP Center on Wednesday.


[RELATED: Complete Sharks vs. Golden Knights series coverage]


The Golden Knights defeated the Sharks in six games in the Western Conference Second Round last year, outscoring them 22-14, on their way to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. They went 2-1-1 against the Sharks this season, outscoring them 18-10.

Teams that have taken a 1-0 lead in a best-of-7 series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs have gone on to win 68.5 percent of the time (467-214).

Here are 5 Keys for Game 1:


1. Stop the puck

Marc-Andre Fleury, 35-21-5 with a 2.51 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and eight shutouts this season, appears to give Vegas an advantage in goal. Martin Jones, who was 36-19-5 with a 2.94 GAA and .896 save percentage, needs to stop that narrative for San Jose.

Fleury went 4-2 with a 2.14 goals-against average, a .935 save percentage and two shutouts against the Sharks in the second round last year, then 1-1-0 with a 1.54 GAA and a .950 save percentage against them this season.

Jones went 2-4 with a 3.13 goals-against average, an .895 save percentage and one shutout against the Golden Knights in the playoffs last year, then 2-0-0 with a 3.62 GAA and an .893 save percentage against them this season.

Video: Previewing Golden Knights-Sharks First Round series


2. Break up the Vegas forecheck

One of the Golden Knights' strengths is their forecheck. They want to force the Sharks to defend, cause breakdowns and pounce on mistakes, especially against Norris Trophy winners Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson.

The Sharks need to stop it. Outnumber the opponent on the puck, and when one knocks him off balance, another takes possession. At that instant, exit the zone as fast as possible.

"Get that puck going north, and just be hard on them everywhere we can be," Sharks defenseman Justin Braun said. "If you're just soft and letting them do their own thing, you're going to have a long night."


3. Win the neutral zone

The Golden Knights' strengths also include their back pressure and transition game. They backcheck hard, force turnovers and flip back to offense in a flash.

"We're going to have to be clean through the neutral zone," Sharks forward Evander Kane said. "I thought that was a key last year; I'm sure it will be a key this year as well. You can't feed their transition game, because that's how they get on top of you real quick."


4. Pressure the San Jose defense

Burns and Karlsson are the top two offensive defensemen in the game. The Sharks need them to be difference-makers.

The Golden Knights need to make them defend as much as possible. When the puck is in the Vegas zone, the Golden Knights tend to play the Sharks defense high to take away shooting and passing lanes. The Sharks forwards need to take advantage of the extra space.

"We've got some guys that can play that down-low game," Sharks center Joe Pavelski said, mentioning forwards Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier. "We've got some guys that can work their ways out of corners."

Video: COL@SJS: Burns buries point shot after face-off win


5. Avoid penalties

A physical game works to the Sharks' advantage, slowing down the Golden Knights' speed and disrupting their rhythm. Vegas can't take penalties in response. 

The Golden Knights need to stay out of the penalty box for two reasons: One, the Sharks have a potent power play that ranked sixth in the regular season (23.6 percent). Two, the Golden Knights are at their best when rolling four forward lines and three defense pairs.


Sharks projected lineup

Timo Meier -- Logan Couture -- Joe Pavelski

Evander Kane -- Tomas Hertl -- Gustav Nyquist

Marcus Sorensen -- Joe Thornton -- Kevin Labanc

Michael Haley -- Barclay Goodrow -- Melker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard Vlasic -- Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon -- Erik Karlsson

Joakim Ryan -- Justin Braun

Martin Jones

Aaron Dell

Scratched: Joonas Donskoi, Tim Heed, Lukas Radil

Injured: Radim Simek (knee)


Golden Knights projected lineup

Jonathan Marchessault -- William Karlsson -- Reilly Smith

Max Pacioretty -- Paul Stastny -- Mark Stone

Brandon Pirri -- Cody Eakin -- Alex Tuch

William Carrier -- Pierre-Edouard Bellemare -- Ryan Reaves

Nate Schmidt -- Deryk Engelland

Brayden McNabb -- Shea Theodore

Colin Miller -- Jon Merrill

Marc-Andre Fleury

Malcolm Subban

Scratched: Nick HoldenTomas Nosek, Ryan CarpenterValentin Zykov, Jimmy Schuldt

Injured: Erik Haula (lower body)


Status report

Hertl did not participate in the morning skate, but Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said he will play. ... Vegas held an optional morning skate. Coach Gerard Gallant did not commit to a left wing on the third line. The options are Pirri, Nosek and Carpenter.

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