LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — If it seems like it’s been years since the Golden Knights were in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Tuesday night’s game on home ice against the Winnipeg Jets is carrying a load of anticipation for players and fans alike.
The Knights break into the postseason tonight with captain Mark Stone’s return — on the third line — from a back injury that sidelined him for 39 games, and Laurent Brossoit starting in goal. It’s probably not the lineup coach Bruce Cassidy had penciled in when he arrived in Las Vegas to coach the Knights, but a lot has changed for this team on the path to the NHL’s Western Conference title.
Stone’s return should provide a big lift.
“Real important piece to our team as everyone knows not only on the ice, but off the ice,” coach Bruce Cassidy told NHL.com. “Everything he brings. Fortunate to have him.”
Stone said he tried to rehab after aggravating his back injury on Jan. 12, but he eventually sought help from the doctor who performed Jack Eichel’s neck surgery.
“I think I had a successful surgery the first time,” Stone said. “Unfortunately, it came back, so I had to try to do something different. Right from the start, I felt good. It took away a lot of my pain and symptoms days after the surgery.”
Eichel and Shea Theodore returned to the lineup as the regular season ended, and Zach Whitecloud is expected back on defense tonight.
Deals that brought toughness to the lineup — Ivan Barbashev and Teddy Blueger — and a surefire Hall of Fame goalie in Jonathan Quick have the Knights with an embarrassment of riches as the team got healthy. But a few injuries, notably William Carrier’s absence and the slow return of goalies Logan Thompson and Adin Hill, put a question mark on the lineups Cassidy will use as the playoffs go on. Cassidy said Tuesday there’s a possibility Carrier will return in the playoffs.
But first thing’s first: Winnipeg has an outstanding goalie in Connor Hellebuyck. Oddsmakers say he presents Winnipeg’s best chance to pull off a first-round upset. His .920 save percentage and 2.49 goals-against average produced a 37-25-2 record this year.
Kyle Connor leads the Jets with 80 points (31G, 49A), followed by Josh Morrissey with 76 points (16G, 60A). Mark Scheifele leads the team in goals (42).
For the Knights, Eichel leads the team with 66 points (27G, 39A), followed by Chandler Stephenson’s 65 points (16G, 49A). Jonathan Marchessault’s 28 goals lead a balanced attack.
During the regular season, the Knights swept all three games against Winnipeg, but they haven’t faced each other since Dec. 15.
The Knights are encouraging fans to come out early, and rally towels are ready as T-Mobile Arena opens at 5 p.m. for a 6:30 p.m. puck drop. A live broadcast of Game 1 and Game 2 will be available outside in Toshiba Plaza for fans without tickets.
Golden Knights vs. Winnipeg Jets
- Faceoff: 6:30 p.m. T-Mobile Arena
- TV/Radio: ESPN2/KKGK, 1340 AM, 98.9 FM
- Records: Golden Knights 51-22-9; Jets 46-33-3
- Notes: The Knights are expected to start Eichel, Barbashev and Marchessault on the top line, with Phil Kessell on the second line with William Karlsson and Reilly Smith. Stone is on the third line with Stephenson and Michael Amadio.