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2021 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: Vegas Golden Knights vs Minnesota Wild

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After 56 games this season, the NHL playoff is finally upon us. In the Honda West division, the most exciting matchup has the be the Vegas Golden Knights vs Minnesota Wild. It’s the newcomers to the league from Las Vegas, who once again is one of the major cup contenders going up against the new-look Minnesota Wild who after years of mediocrity and a lack of identity finally found their spark once again.

Vegas Golden Knights vs Minnesota Wild Season Head-to-Head Record

Due to Covid-19, the Vegas Golden Knights vs Minnesota Wild is a familiar matchup. The Vegas Golden Knights vs Minnesota Wild have played eight times during the 2020-2021 season, with most being very physical games both teams really dislike one another. It’s turning into a new rivalry in the league and this was perfectly shown in their latest meeting, where a hit from behind by Nicolas Hague on Minnesota Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov sparked a major brawl. This ended in Marcus Foligno going right after Hague and Kaprizov fighting Zach Whitecloud. This was a fight the Russian won to most people’s surprise.

Vegas went on to win that game in overtime and has that momentum to go on, but before that, the Wild had won the past five games in a row, with only one win in regulation. While the first two games and the last one went to Vegas the record surprisingly favors the Wild, who has had Vegas number this season. Where Vegas has only won one game in regulation, the Wild has won four of their five in regulation.

It is worth saying that apart from the second game of the season, where the Golden Knights won 5-1 after three goals within six minutes late in the third period, every game has been decided by one goal or a late empty netter. If the games in the regular season are anything to judge by, strap in for a long series with a bunch of overtime finishes.

Vegas Golden Knights vs Minnesota Wild Strengths

Both teams have some major strengths that they can utilize to get the upper hand in the series. Offensively the Minnesota Wild has one thing that has to be razor-sharp to win, and that is their Russian rookie. The Calder favorite has been fantastic this season and he has to drive the offense for Minnesota alongside Kevin Fiala. Those two players are going to have to find a way to get points for the Wild to advance vs the Golden Knights, but they also showed that they can.

It won’t be easy however because one of Vegas’ strengths in this playoff will be Marc-Andre Fleury, who has found his second youth. Having a Vezina Trophy-type year similar to 2018 where Vegas went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, it’s paramount that he stays fantastic for the Golden Knights. Outside that one of the things the Golden Knights does better than any other team in the league is their breakouts. The transition from defense to offense faster than anyone and they have the speed that can catch any defense flatfooted and lead to odd-man rushes chances.

Therefore the Wild must be aware of this on the backend, which for the past eight years has been where the Wild outshines most teams. Their defensive core is one of the better in the league and Cam Talbot thrived behind it this season. Talbot’s strong play was a surprise for many this season, but Minnesota has always been a team that’s hard to score against due to their strong defense. The difference this year is slightly above league average goaltending and goalscoring from Kaprizov and Fiala.

Weaknesses

It’s hard to find a true weakness within this Vegas Golden Knights lineup. Every part of their roster is deep, and they have two very solid goaltenders. However, if there is one area that they have to improve compared to the regular-season matchups against the Wild, it’s the special team. They have often had the lead going into the third period, but a lack of discipline has given the Wild an opening and the Wild has been taking this chance in most of their games.

Especially Kaprizov has benefited from the powerplays, which started awfully for the Wild, but in the last 30 games of the season improved drastically. The Golden Knights cant allow for Kaprizov and Fiala to get chances and especially not on the powerplay.

The Wild, however, has one very glaring weakness. Their center depth is lackluster at best and they are being carried by the brilliance of Kaprizov on most nights offensively. Down the middle, they have Victor Rask, Joel Eriksson Ek, Ryan Hartman, and Nico Sturm. While Ek and Sturm are good centers, they lack the first-line center to compliment Kaprizov.

Rask has been an anchor to Kaprizov this season, and has often slowed down the line, or lacked the quality needed to capitalize on passes from him. Going up against a cup favorite and you need more than okay at the center position, so Rask and Hartman have to step up if the Wild wants to advance.

Vegas Golden Knights vs Minnesota Wild Prediction

It’s going to be a war in every single game of this series. Vegas Golden Knights vs. Minnesota Wild has been a major rivalry this season between the two teams and I think we can expect a physical battle, where goaltending and superstar power becomes decisive for the outcome of the series. It won’t be a sweep for either team and I’m expecting it goes the distance with plenty of overtime games. The Vegas Golden Knights are the favorites vs the Minnesota Wild and I think they take it in a brutal game seven but wouldn’t be shocked if the Wild manage to finish the upset. Vegas in 7.

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