Fleury, Lehner and the Golden Knights’ big Game 5 decision

[UPDATE: Fleury was the first goalie off during Tuesday’s morning skate and is the projected Game 5 starter.]

When it comes to his goaltending decisions Vegas Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer has not been afraid to make a bold, and maybe even controversial, move.

Over the past two years he has been rotating Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner in and out of the lineup at different (and unexpected) times. He rolled with Lehner as his starter a year ago, and has twice this postseason (including Sunday’s Game 4 win) sent Fleury to the bench in favor of Lehner even though the former has had a very strong postseason.

It creates quite a storyline going into a pivotal Game 5 on Tuesday when their semifinal series against the Montreal Canadiens shifts back to Vegas.

Does DeBoer stick with Lehner after a potential season-saving performance on Sunday?

Or does he go back to a rested Fleury who has hopefully put his Game 3 gaffe behind him?

Let’s dig into this situation a little bit with a few thoughts.

1. There is a strong argument in favor of DeBoer’s changes

When a team has a franchise goalie they usually stick with that goalie in the playoffs until they absolutely have to make a change. Seeing teams voluntarily using multiple goalies in a playoff is strange, mostly because we almost never see it.

But most teams don’t have two goalies this good. Most teams are not paying their two goalies a combined $12 million per season.

If you have two starting caliber goalies, and if you are going to pay them that much money and eat up that much of your allotted salary cap space, you might as well figure out a way to get something out of both of them. Especially when one of the goalies (Fleury) is 36 years old and has a lot of wear on his tires.

The NHL regular season is a grind for goalies, and a bunch of deep playoff runs only adds to that. The fatigue factor is real, and keeping your goalie fresh can be helpful. If giving Fleury the occasional night off in the middle of a playoff run helps keep him rest, and you have another goalie that is capable of winning you those games, why not take advantage of that? It is an edge Vegas has over most teams in the playoffs.


2. This does keep happening to Marc-Andre Fleury..

And by this, I mean his coach going away from him in a big moment. It has happened with three different coaches on two different teams (Pittsburgh and Vegas) on multiple occasions.

In 2012-13 Dan Bylsma turned his net over to Tomas Vokoun in Game 5 of the the First Round. Outside of one relief appearance later in the playoffs, Fleury never saw the ice again as the Penguins went to the Eastern Conference Final.

In 2015-16 both Fleury and Matt Murray opened the playoffs injured for the Penguins. Murray was the first goalie back, got the starts, and held that starting job until Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay when Fleury was re-inserted into the lineup. He did not play well, gave up two late goals in a pivotal game, and never saw the ice again as Murray backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup.

In 2016-17 Fleury opened the playoffs for the Penguins as the starter (Murray was injured) and helped carry them through the first two rounds. He stumbled early in the Conference Finals against Ottawa, was replaced by Murray in Game 4, and then never saw the ice again as Murray backstopped the Penguins to another Stanley Cup.


In 2019-20, and after two playoff runs where he was the unquestioned starter in Vegas (including a Stanley Cup Final run), Fleury opened the playoffs on the bench in favor of Lehner who had played just three regular season games for the Golden Knights. Other than being used sparingly to give Lehner a break in some back-to-back situations in the bubble, Fleury was clearly the back up.

Then on Sunday, with the Golden Knights facing a 2-1 series deficit in the semifinal, DeBoer went back to Lehner in a massive spot.

You can analyze each individual situation all you want and look for reasons why each of those decisions was made. Maybe in a vacuum each of them makes sense on its own. But it keeps happening.

Fleury is fascinating case because he is the goalie that you want to see when you look at him, both good and bad.

His resume is Hall of Fame worthy, and he will almost certainly eventually find his way there. He is probably going to finish his career second on the All-Time wins list (he is already third, and Patrick Roy in the second spot is within reach), probably in the top-10 in shutouts, and he has a championship legacy. He won a Stanley Cup as a starter in 2009. He started to other Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and 2018 and made significant contributions to two other Stanley Cup winning teams (2015 and 2016). There is a good chance he could find himself playing in another Stanley Cup Final, and maybe add another ring to his collection this season.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 schedule, TV info]

But he has always been a lightning rod for criticism throughout his career for his postseason struggles and occasional blooper.

In the end he is a better player than his harshest critics will have you believe and maybe not as great as his biggest supporters will scream.

He may have never been the best goalie in the league, but he has been a very good, extremely durable goalie for more than 15 years. There is a lot to be said for that.

But you still can not ignore the fact that three very successful coaches, with five different Stanley Cup Final appearances between them, have at different times made the decision to start other goalies on the roster in big moments.

It is a very unique situation for a goalie with this sort of resume.

It also leads to this.

3. DeBoer’s decision for Game 5 will be telling

If DeBoer goes back to Fleury in Game 5 then it pretty clearly states that Fleury is his guy for this postseason and the Game 4 decision (and the Game 1 decision in the Second Round) were simply strategic changes to rest his starter and keep him fresh.

But if he goes back to Lehner after Fleury’s Game 3 mishap and Lehner’s strong Game 4 performance, then it is going to look an awful lot like a coach that was just waiting for an opportunity to turn to his preferred goalie.

CANADIENS VS. GOLDEN KNIGHTS (Series tied 2-2) – series livestream link

Game 1: Golden Knights 4, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2
Game 3: Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2 (OT)
Game 4: Golden Knights 2, Canadiens 1 (OT)

Game 5: Tues. June 22: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 9 p.m ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 6: Thurs. June 24: Golden Knights at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sat. June 26: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 8 p.m ET (NBCSN / Peacock)

*if necessary

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    Blue Jackets acquire D Damon Severson from Devils after he signs 8-year deal

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    Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

    The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Damon Severson from the New Jersey Devils on Friday after the veteran defenseman and soon-to-be free agent signed an eight-year $50 million contract.

    Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen sent a third-round pick, 80th overall, in this month’s draft to the Devils for Severson, who will be under contract through the 2030-31 NHL season.

    Severson had 58 goals and 205 assists in 647 career appearances with the Devils since making his NHL debut in 2014-15. He scored seven game-winning goals and averaged more than 21 minutes of playing time during his nine seasons. The 28-year-old had seven goals and 26 assists this season, including two game-winning goals, in 81 games.

    “Damon is a versatile defenseman who has great vision, moves the puck extremely well, has good size and can play heavy minutes at both ends of the ice,” Kekalainen said.

    The Canadian was selected in the second round in the 2012 draft. He has collected 30 or more points five times in his career and twice notched 11 or more goals. He played in every game in three straight seasons from 2018-21 and has played 80 or more contests four times in his career.

    With the addition of the third-round pick, New Jersey now has six selections in the draft, including its own picks in rounds two, four, five, six and seven.

    Matthew Tkachuk returns from big hit in Stanley Cup Final, adds more playoff heroics

    James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

    Matthew Tkachuk was down, out briefly and then back with plenty of time to make a difference.

    The Florida Panthers star left early in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after a big hit from Vegas Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar, and he missed most of the first period and didn’t return immediately following intermission while being evaluated for a concussion. After looking as if he might be lost for the night, Tkachuk returned in the second and then came through with more of his now trademark playoff heroics.

    Tkachuk scored the tying goal with 2:13 left in regulation, forcing overtime and giving the Panthers new life. He then provided the screen on Carter Verhaeghe‘s OT goal for a 3-2 victory that cut Florida’s series deficit to 2-1.

    The 25-year-old said he knew he was coming back when he left the game, pulled by concussion spotters. That absence felt like a long time ago in the aftermath of another big win he was largely responsible for.

    “I felt great – I feel great,” Tkachuk said. “I’m ready to go. Everybody’s excited that we’re in this position right now.”

    Florida is in this position rather than facing elimination in Game 4 on Saturday thanks in large part to Tkachuk, who also set up Brandon Montour‘s goal that opened the scoring less than five minutes in.

    Not long after, Tkachuk stumbled getting up after the hit from Kolesar and skated to the bench. He took a shift on Florida’s power play before going down the tunnel at the demand of concussion spotters mandated by NHL protocol.

    At that point, there was zero clarity, even on the Florida bench.

    “You’re not informed at all: It’s a complete shutdown,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You are completely in the dark on those. You don’t know when the player’s coming back. There’s not an update.”

    Players insist they were not worried. Montour called it a no-brainer.

    “He’s going to come back no matter what,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “He’s really tough guy, and he’s going to battle through everything.”

    Tkachuk rejoined his teammates on the bench a few minutes into the second. When he stepped back onto the ice for his first shift since leaving, fans cheered and chanted, “Chucky! Chucky!”

    The crowd was even louder and threw rats when Tkachuk scored his biggest goal of many during this run to tie it. He didn’t get an assist on Verhaeghe’s goal but made it happen with a tape-to-tape pass in the neutral zone and was in front of Adin Hill when it happened.

    Asked if he was happy Tkachuk returned, Maurice joked that it was after midnight.

    “It was fine,” he quipped.

    Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

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    Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

    SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

    Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

    Game 4 is Saturday night.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

    Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

    His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

    The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

    It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

    Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

    Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

    As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

    But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.


    Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.

    Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

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    Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
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    CHICAGO — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

    The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

    The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

    Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.