John Locher / AP
Saturday, May 12, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Vegas and Winnipeg open their Western Conference finals series at 4 p.m. today in Canada with the Golden Knights a small underdog to reach the Stanley Cup in their first season.
Vegas is plus-140 to win the best-of-seven series.
Here are three keys to the Golden Knights pulling the upset:
Weather the storm early
The Jets are one of the fastest starting teams in the NHL with a plus-25 goal differential in the first period. Winnipeg has scored 92 goals in the opening frame this year, and with the lead after the initial period, it has a spectacular 30-2-2 record.
That makes it imperative for Vegas to perform well early in games. The Golden Knights do have the ability to rally late, winning six games this season when trailing entering the final period — fourth best in the NHL.
The Golden Knights have scored first in seven of their 10 playoff games and will need to do that at Winnipeg, which finished the regular season with the best home record in the NHL.
That hasn’t necessarily been the case in the playoffs, though. The Jets suffered consecutive home losses in its second-round playoff series against Nashville.
The Jets have an extremely talented second line, led by 44-goal scorer Patrik Laine.
Laine finished second in the league in scoring, one goal ahead of Vegas’ William Karlsson, and plays alongside Paul Stastny and Nikolaj Ehlers. The 16 goals the three have combined to score ranks 38th in the league, which is impressive considering Stastny wasn’t added until the trading deadline.
But Vegas has a potent second line of its own with James Neal, Erik Haula and David Perron teaming up for 165 points. That’s the second-highest-scoring second line in the NHL.
In the final two games against the Sharks in the second round, Haula and Neal scored goals and Perron looked much more comfortable on the ice.
Bottom line, if the Golden Knights are to win this series, they will need production from the second line.
Beat Hellebuyck low
The goaltending matchup is a good one, pitting veteran Marc-Andre Fleury for Vegas against youngster Connor Hellebuyck.
Fleury is having one of the best postseason runs in a long time, sporting a 1.53 goals against average and .951 save percentage. Hellebuyck has been good in the playoffs but has shown some weaknesses with a respectable 2.25 goals against average.
If Hellebuyck has a weakness it is low shots, particularly between his legs — or what is commonly referred to as the five-hole. When Hellebuyck drops to his knees, he has a tendency to lift his stick, and not close his pads all the way, leaving a gap to score if the shooter is accurate enough.
The Golden Knights exposed this weakness in the first round with Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. He had an amazing series overall but most of the goals he allowed were through his five-hole, including Haula’s double-overtime winner on April 13.