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Golden Knights playoff berth sparked by trade for Stone

Could contend for Cup again thanks to solid seasons from Fleury, Schmidt

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The Vegas Golden Knights have made it two appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in their two seasons in the NHL.

The Golden Knights (42-30-6) clinched a 2019 playoff berth when the Arizona Coyotes lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Friday. Vegas is third in the Pacific Division with 90 points and four regular-season games to play. They are five points behind the second-place San Jose Sharks.

Here are five reasons the Golden Knights clinched a playoff berth:

 

1. Stone on the scene

The Golden Knights acquired arguably the best player moved before the NHL Trade Deadline, getting forward Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators with forward Tobias Lindberg for forward Oscar Lindberg, defenseman Erik Brannstrom and a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft on Feb. 25. 

Since the trade, Vegas is 10-4-1 and Stone has 10 points (four goals, six assists) and has joined center Paul Stastny (16 points; six goals, 10 assists) and forward Max Pacioretty (eight points; four goals, four assists) to create a dominant second line. Vegas has allowed 35 goals during that span, second-fewest in the NHL, in part because the Stone-led second line has the puck most of the time it's on the ice; Stone (plus-87), Stastny (plus-88) and Pacioretty (plus-67) are a combined plus-242 in shot attempts.

The second line's play also has helped spark the top line of William Karlsson (14 points; five goals, nine assists), Reilly Smith (17 points; nine goals, eight assists) and Jonathan Marchessault (14 points; four goals, 10 assists), which has combined for 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) in the past 15 games.

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Vegas clinches a playoff spot

 

2. Schmidt standing tall

Nate Schmidt, Vegas' best defenseman last season, was suspended for the first 20 games of this season for violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program. The Golden Knights went 8-11-1 without him, allowed 2.85 goals per game and were scoring 2.45. 

After Schmidt joined the lineup Nov. 18, the Golden Knights won six of their next seven games. 

"He's one of our best players, so he's going to make a difference all over the ice -- I hope," Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the day before Schmidt returned. 

With Schmidt, Vegas is 34-19-5, tied with the St. Louis Blues for seventh in the NHL, scoring 3.24 goals per game and allowing 2.71.

Video: BOS@VGK: Schmidt quickly ties it for Golden Knights

 

3. Fleury in full bloom

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's second season with the Golden Knights has been just as good as his first. His 35 wins are tied with Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs for second in the NHL, two behind Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and an improvement on the 29 he had last season. Fleury is also tied with Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the NHL lead with eight shutouts, the second-most he has had in his 15 NHL seasons (10, 2014-15).

For the second straight season, Fleury, who has missed the past six games with a lower-body injury, has been Vegas' best player, as well as a vital source of energy and enthusiasm on and off the ice.

Video: VAN@VGK: Fleury denies Pearson, Goldobin in the 1st

 

4. Huge home-ice advantage

During their two seasons, the Golden Knights have made T-Mobile Arena one of the most difficult rinks in the NHL for visiting teams. They are 23-11-5 at home this season, have two home winning streaks of at least six games and have lost more than two consecutive games at home once.

Part of the reason the Golden Knights went an NHL-best 7-3 at home during the playoffs last year was the energy they got from their home fans. After coming so close to the Stanley Cup, those same people will be rooting even harder, and louder, this year.

 

5. Tuch's development

When the Golden Knights needed an offensive boost in December, it came from forward Alex Tuch. Between Dec. 1 and Jan. 31, he led Vegas with 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists). Vegas went 15-7-3 during that span and went from tied for third place in the Pacific Division to a 10-point lead on fourth place. 

Tuch was an inconsistent secondary scoring option in 2017-18, his first full season in the NHL. He scored 15 goals but was held to four in the final 22 games of the regular season. This season he's using his 6-foot-4, 222-pound frame better in the offensive zone to create havoc around the net and has an NHL career-high 51 points (20 goals, 31 assists).

Video: EDM@VGK: Tuch forces turnover and buries wrister

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