Saturday, April 7, 2018 | 10:05 p.m.
The Golden Knights will play the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Since their inception, Vegas’ natural rival has appeared to be the team down Interstate-15, and that rivalry will get a major boost over the next two weeks as the teams face off in the Golden Knights’ first playoff series in franchise history.
After a Dec. 28 loss to Vegas, Kings’ star defenseman Drew Doughty said “there’s no way (the Golden Knights are) going to be a better team than us by the end of the season.”
He and his teammates will have a chance to find out over the next four to seven games.
Vegas wrapped up the regular season with a 7-1 loss to the Flames in Calgary, and will drop the puck for the postseason next week at T-Mobile Arena. While the NHL playoffs are scheduled to start Wednesday, the league has not released team-specific schedules yet.
What we do know is the Golden Knights, who won the Pacific Division with 109 points, will host the first two games against the Los Angeles Kings.
The Golden Knights split the regular season series with the Kings 2-2, winning the first two contests before dropping the final two.
Vegas won the first matchup of the season Nov. 19 at T-Mobile Arena, getting two goals from William Karlsson in a 4-2 win. The Golden Knights followed it up with a 3-2 overtime win Dec. 28 in Los Angeles, where David Perron scored the game-winning goal in the extra period.
The Kings answered with back-to-back wins of their own on Feb. 26 and 27. Los Angeles defended its home ice first, earning a 3-2 come-from-behind win in overtime. The Kings tied the game 2-2 with only 10 seconds left in regulation, then forward Dustin Brown scored in overtime to give Los Angeles its first franchise win over Vegas.
The Kings then made the trip to Las Vegas, where they beat the Golden Knights 4-1. In net for Vegas was backup goaltender Maxime Lagace, who surrendered the four goals on only 30 shots.
Los Angeles holds a significant advantage in playoff experience. While the Kings haven’t won a playoff series in four years, they still have a handful of players from their Stanley Cup championships in 2011-12 and 2013-14.
But the Golden Knights have been the better team this season, outplaying the Kings in their four meetings despite the 2-2 split. They outshot Los Angeles 160-131, and had a 54-45 advantage in CORSI percentage, which tracks total shots attempted.
The Kings will try to bully the Golden Knights with physicality -- like they did in the last two matchups -- while Vegas will try to use speed and skill to outplay Los Angeles.
The Golden Knights’ top line of Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault carved the Kings defense up during the regular season. Karlsson had three goals and an assist, Marchessault had a goal and two assists, and Smith racked up a goal and five assists in four dominant games.
Smith returned to the lineup in tonight’s game against Calgary, just in time for the postseason after missing 15 games with an upper-body injury.
The series will provide perhaps the best goaltender matchup of the entire first round, pitting Stanley Cup Winning netminders Marc-Andre Fleury against Jonathan Quick. Both have been good this season. Fleury leads the NHL in save percentage (.931) and is second in goals against average (.214), while Quick has an impressive save percentage of .923 himself.
The Golden Knights will host the first two games of the series starting next week before heading to Southern California.