In a bit of a surprise, it will be Marc-Andre Fleury, and not Robin Lehner, in net for the Vegas Golden Knights when they open the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars on Sunday night (Livestream).
Lehner has received the bulk of the playing time throughout the playoffs and just completed a Second Round series against the Vancouver Canucks where he recorded three shutouts, including the Game 7 win on Friday night.
Despite that, coach Peter DeBoer is still going with Fleury for the first game of the Western Conference Final.
At first glance it is a stunning move because Lehner has clearly taken over the starting job in net. He has started the overwhelming majority of the games, and was the player that DeBoer went with in a Game 7 even though it was the second half of a back-to-back. It has become his job.
So why go with Fleury right now?
Keeping Lehner fresh seems to be the most logical conclusion to reach here, and it is something that DeBoer has done all postseason.
After playing in Games 6 and 7 of the Second Round, starting Lehner on Sunday night would have meant three starts in four days and four starts in six days.
That is a lot, and even if he did not face a heavy workload in the Game 7 win that sort of workload can take a toll.
When the Golden Knights acquired Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline it was done to improve their goaltending depth and give them a fallback option in the event that Fleury faltered or was injured. Maybe they did not anticipate him taking over the starting job as quickly as he did (or maybe they did?), but it still gave them two starting caliber goalies.
As long as they have that luxury it makes sense to use it to their advantage when it comes to keeping their starter as fresh and rested as possible.
Fleury has started three games this postseason, winning all three with an .893 save percentage. He finished the regular season with a .905 mark in 49 appearances.
His most recent start was Game 4 of the Second Round series against Vancouver, which was the second half of a back-to-back. He also started Game 3 of the First Round against Chicago, which was also part of a back-to-back.
He also played one of the three Round-Robin games.
This is not a back-to-back situation, but Lehner has still played a ton of hockey in a short stretch of days.
Lehner is 8-4 this postseason with a .918 save percentage. He posted a .920 save percentage in 36 games during the regular season with the Blackhawks and Golden Knights.
No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars
Game 1: Sunday, Sept. 6, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 2: Tuesday, Sept. 8, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 3: Thursday, Sept. 10, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Saturday, Sept. 12, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 5: Monday, Sept. 14, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Game 6: Wednesday, Sept. 16, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Game 7: Friday, Sept. 18, 9 p.m. ET – NBCSN
MORE STANLEY CUP COVERAGE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Final schedule