EDMONTON, Alberta — Normally, finishing off a playoff series early means rest and a chance to unwind, maybe spend time with family.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, they have no idea what their time will look like inside the NHL bubble in Edmonton while they wait for the next round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to begin.
”None of us has ever been through this before, right?” Vegas forward Mark Stone said. ”We’ve had some nicks and bruises and obviously it would be good to get a little bit of practice time … get some practices in and clean up a little bit.”
The Golden Knights, the top seed in the Western Conference, became the first team in this year’s playoffs to advance when they eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks with a 4-3 win in Game 5 late Tuesday night.
The reward for Vegas is rest and plenty of time to scout whoever the next opponent will be in the conference semifinals beginning next week. The Golden Knights will face the lowest remaining seed.
Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said after Tuesday’s win that he would start putting together a schedule for handling the layoff and was hopeful the team could have some expanded activities that aren’t just on the ice.
”I’m a little superstitious about making plans for downtime when you haven’t finished a team off yet so we haven’t done any planning yet,” DeBoer said. ”From what I understand, there’s going to be some more options for the guys to be able to do a few more things, maybe outside the bubble potentially. But we haven’t gotten into any of that yet. We’ll find a way to keep ourselves busy.”
The Golden Knights dispatched the Blackhawks thanks largely to a stingy defense and the goaltending combo of Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury. Lehner was 3-1 in the series and is now 8-1 overall since being acquired by the Golden Knights in February. Fleury was excellent in his one game of the series, making 26 saves in a 2-1 win.
What the Golden Knights hope will continue into the next round is the offensive production from the stars that emerged in Game 5. Max Pacioretty, who missed the round-robin seeding games, scored his first of the postseason and added an assist. Playoff veteran Alec Martinez finally converted a power-play opportunity after Vegas had been shutout in the series.
And bullying forward Alex Tuch scored the game winner early in the third period, and later had another goal waived off after review.
”It was obviously the best that I’ve felt since I came back,” said Pacioretty, who led Vegas in goals and points in the regular season. ”Jumping into a playoff game after five months off isn’t the easiest situation. But our team is pretty dialed in right now so it makes it a lot easier to jump in and feel better about your game.”
After scoring 15 goals in the three seeding games against Dallas, Colorado and St. Louis, solving Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford and seeing the offensive pop in Game 5 was a boost for Vegas moving forward.
”Throughout the playoffs every series gets harder and harder so it’s good that we’re gonna have a couple days to kind of rest up,” Martinez said. ”But we want to keep playing good hockey and keep building on our game.”