Vegas Golden Knights vs Vancouver Canucks: Round 2, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

Vegas Golden Knights vs Vancouver Canucks NHL Playoffs Round 2
Vegas Golden Knights vs Vancouver Canucks, Western Conference Semifinals

It probably felt like it was never going to happen, but with about six minutes left in the third period, the Vegas Golden Knights finally beat Thatcher Demko to skate past the Vancouver Canucks into the Western Conference Finals. Demko had shut out the Golden Knights for 138 minutes and 40 seconds and made 98 consecutive saves before Shea Theodore’s shot opened the scoring in Game 7 late in the third period. It was again a dominant game from Vegas as it held Vancouver to just 14 shots in the game, but it couldn’t figure out Demko for the longest time, giving the Canucks a glimmer of hope

Vegas Golden Knights win 4-3

This series was dominated by the Vegas Golden Knights, but it went seven games because Thatcher Demko stood on his head for nearly 180 minutes. The Vancouver Canucks had no business winning Game 5 or Game 6, but did just enough on offense to extend the series to Game 7. Vancouver had four power-play chances to make Vegas nervous while the game was still searching for its first goal, but managed just two shots on those opportunities. That was indicative of the entire series as the Golden Knights limited the Canucks to few scoring chances each game and continued to create great chances for themselves at the other end. Now Vegas is back in the conference finals for the second time in the franchise’s three years of existence and trying to get back to the Stanley Cup Final for a second time as well.

Game 1

August 23rd, 10:30 p.m., Rogers Place

It’ll be nearly a week since the Vegas Golden Knights last played a game after taking care of Chicago in five games whereas their opponent, the Vancouver Canucks, played just Friday night in finishing off St. Louis. Both of these teams were able to score in bunches in the last round, but Vegas had to work harder for its goals than Vancouver did for its tallies. How both teams adjust defensively in this series will be fascinating to watch and could be the key to the series.

Vegas has not really been tested in this postseason, losing just once in eight games between the round robin and first round. The Golden Knights looked very good in overcoming Chicago in the previous round, neutralizing the Blackhawks with a strong defensive performance. But that also meant that Robin Lehner wasn’t really tested by his former team the way he will be by Vancouver’s attack. He’ll need to be really sharp in goal to help the Golden Knights defend against the speedy Canucks.

It was a tough ride for Vancouver to get past St. Louis, but Jacob Markstrom rose to the occasion several times in that series to help the Canucks through. Vancouver is very good offensively with five players already with eight points in the NHL playoffs, but they’ll need to be even better to get past the Golden Knights’ sparkling defense. The Canucks are also going to have to protect Markstrom a little better and not allow Vegas to take as many shots on goal. Vancouver allowed an average of 38.1 shots per game on goal against the Blues, which won’t be sustainable against the Golden Knights.

This will be an interesting series between these two teams, but I agree with the NHL betting sites in New Jersey that Vegas is the clear favorite. What does surprise me is that the odds dictate that the sportsbooks expect the Golden Knights to finish the series in five or six games, and that’s where I don’t know if I can agree. Vancouver is a gritty, crafty team and although Vegas is better, I don’t know if it can finish off Vancouver that easily. I think the Canucks have the better goaltender, so I think this series goes the distance with Vegas winning in seven games at +465 odds as opposed to the regular -275 for Vegas to advance regardless of series score.

I was surprised how big a favorite Vegas was in Game 1 considering the Golden Knights haven’t played since Tuesday, but the rest is probably better than the Canucks’ continuous grind. Vancouver just came off a tough series with St. Louis and Vegas is a completely different team with more speed and skill to match the Canucks. Markstrom might be able to steal them the game with how well he’s been playing, but I don’t know if Vancouver is really prepared for what the Golden Knights are going to bring. A refreshed, rejuvenated Vegas team takes Game 1 in regulation (+110 odds) with more than six goals scored combined in the game at +118 odds.


Game 2 (Vegas Golden Knights lead 1-0)

August 25th, 9:45 p.m., Rogers Place

Once again, the Vegas Golden Knights stole the show with shutdown defense and a strong offense in taking Game 1 from the Vancouver Canucks. Five different Golden Knights scored a goal as Vegas sent waves of pressure into the Vancouver zone all game. The Canucks best chances came on their only power play of the game, so they’ll need to find better possession at even strength in order to keep themselves fresh enough to last in this series.

The nearly week off from competitive action didn’t seem to faze Vegas in Game 1 and it took the initiative to the Canucks all game. Vegas’ relentless pressure seemed to overwhelm the Canucks at times and the Golden Knights took full advantage of the poor clearances. Jacob Markstrom made a lot of first saves, but the Canucks failed to clear the rebounds well and the Golden Knights were able to bang home a few rebounds. Defensively, Vegas kept Vancouver’s speed in check at even strength and made life difficult for the Canucks when they tried to enter the zone.

Vancouver struggled to break down the Golden Knights’ defensive structure, but it had some success with four shots on its only power play of the game. The Canucks had just one more shot on goal (26) than it had blocked by the Vegas defense (25), which made life easier for Robin Lehner. It wasn’t the best day for Markstrom in goal for the Canucks, but Vancouver did him little favors by failing to clear and possess pucks in its own zone, leading to Vegas opportunities. The Canucks allowed the Golden Knights too much time and space in the offensive zone and they made them pay with five goals.

I’m done underestimating Robin Lehner because he was fantastic for the Golden Knights in Game 1. The Vegas defense was suffocating at even strength and its forecheck really gave the Canucks problems. The Golden Knights are very heavy favorites in Game 2, which scares from a betting perspective at the NHL betting sites in New Jersey. Ultimately, I need to move off the moneyline to the spread, and take Vegas -1.5 goals at +123 odds.


Game 3 (Series tied 1-1)

August 27th, 9:45 p.m., Rogers Place

When the Vancouver Canucks scored 90 seconds into Game 2, you could feel a different energy from the team that was shellacked in Game 1. The next 60 minutes of hockey didn’t look much different in the box score with the Vegas Golden Knights dominating the shot totals and forcing Vancouver into defending. But Jacob Markstrom looked strong again in goal and the Canucks buried their chances Tuesday night to tie the series.

Vancouver was backstopped by Markstrom’s 38 saves on 40 shots but the Canucks blocked 40 other shots from even reaching Markstrom in the first place. The defensive accomplishments were a big reason the Canucks won the game, but the patience and poise on offense was just as impressive. From the first goal to the fourth goal, the Canucks weren’t bothered by the Vegas pressure and were able to move the puck to dangerous areas and capitalize from there. All four non-empty-net goals came from within a foot or two of the blue paint and required excellent skill, which Vancouver showed off in droves in Game 2.

Vegas wasn’t playing defense long enough to have as many defensive breakdowns as it did in Game 2. The Golden Knights lost Tyler Toffoli on the doorstep for the first goal, left Elias Pettersson alone in front on the third goal and Bo Horvat was un-challenged on Vancouver’s fourth goal. The Golden Knights also failed to make their shots count against Markstrom, who undoubtedly played well, but Vegas should have done more with the chances it was generating on a consistent basis. The good news for Vegas is that the puck possession dominance will translate well into future games in the series and is a good sign that the Golden Knights are doing a lot of good things that will pay off eventually.

This series is clearly coming down to how well Markstrom plays in net for Vancouver and how well the Canucks can capitalize on their few opportunities. Vegas is going to control the shot totals and force Vancouver into blocking shots and playing a lot of defense. If the Golden Knights can stay out of the penalty box and get a little better goaltending from Robin Lehner, they’ll be fine. The shot discrepancy is a big reason why I’m picking Vegas to win in regulation at -120 odds and I’m going to take a risk and say the two teams combine for less than 5.5 goals at +114 odds.



Game 4 (Vegas Golden Knights lead 2-1)

August 30th, 10:30 p.m., Rogers Place

The Vegas Golden Knights scored twice in the first six minutes of Game 3 then held off the Vancouver Canucks for an important win to take a lead in the series. Vegas pitched its second shutout of the series as it survived the onslaught from Vancouver, which had five power plays in the loss. The Canucks dominated the game early before surrendering a goal and they couldn’t recover and gain back momentum against the Golden Knights. But they have no time to fret with less than 24 hours until a critical Game 4 in this series begins in Edmonton.

Vegas was on its heels to start the game, but a flip pass to Alex Tuch changed the momentum of the game. Tuch was sent in on a breakaway and his shot beat Jacob Markstrom to give the Golden Knights a lead and they never looked back. The Golden Knights are very good at consolidating momentum when they have it, and a second goal less than 90 seconds after Tuch’s was all Vegas needed. Robin Lehner was strong with 31 saves for his second shutout of the series, but Vegas will not want to continue a parade to the penalty box against a skilled Canucks group. If Vegas can play clean defense, it should be able to keep Vancouver at bay.

Vancouver had its fair share of chances with 31 shots, including 10 over the course of five power plays, but it could not beat Lehner. The Canucks still have an advantage in the faceoff circle, which helps them in the possession department, but they need to do more with the puck they do dominate possession. Vancouver allowed Vegas to score on its second shot of the game because of a defensive breakdown, and it was another defensive miscue that led to a second goal a minute or so later. That needs to change if the Canucks want a chance to fight back into this series.

It feels like playing on the second night of a back-to-back tends to favor a team like Vegas, but I’m going to pick Vancouver to win this game. It will be interesting to see what the Golden Knights choose to do with their goalie situation, but I don’t know if Lehner can be as sharp in Game 4 as he was in Game 3. Markstrom looked strong after surrendering the two early goals, and the Canucks will assuredly come out with even more energy than they had Saturday in hopes of evening this series. Although I know it’s going against the NHL betting sites in New Jersey, I’m predicting a bounce-back game for Vancouver to even the series.


Game 5

September 1st, 9:45 p.m., Rogers Place

No matter the situation, the Vegas Golden Knights have proven capable of handling the challenge and excelling. That was again true in Game 4 when the Golden Knights scored three times in the third period to push the Vancouver Canucks to the brink of elimination despite the Canucks holding the lead after two periods. Vegas continued to respond to the adversity placed in front of it and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 28 of the 31 shots he faced to earn his third win of these NHL playoffs for the Golden Knights.

Vegas is just an unrelenting wave of energy and momentum at the moment, making important plays all over the ice and never feeling like it is out of the game. It took less than two minutes for Vancouver to tie the game after Vegas opened the scoring, but within two minutes, the Golden Knights were back in the lead. They trailed after two periods, but within three minutes of the third period beginning, the game was already tied again. The confidence that Vegas has in its systems and each other is contagious and making the Golden Knights the clear favorite to win the Stanley Cup at the moment. They have just controlled the play against the Canucks so well despite Vancouver scoring twice on five power plays in the game.

Once again, the microscope is on Vancouver’s defending, which struggled to keep Vegas off the board in Game 4. The Canucks allowed 33 shots on goals and only blocked 18, and Jacob Markstrom couldn’t make enough stops to keep Vancouver in the lead. Vancouver has never been a great defensive team, but its play in its own zone has deteriorated in this series and made life easier for Vegas. The Canucks are also a team that doesn’t fight against momentum very well, which we saw as the Golden Knights took over the game in the third period Sunday. Within 90 seconds of Vegas taking the lead in the third, Vancouver allowed a second goal that doubled its deficit at an inopportune moment.

It makes complete sense that the NHL betting sites in New Jersey have made Vegas the favorite for Game 5, but I have a feeling the Canucks have one last battle in them. Vancouver clearly has enough skill to put pressure on Vegas and the Canucks have dominated the faceoff circle in this series. Markstrom has raised his level of play in critical moments before and this seems like the perfect chance for him to steal another game for Vancouver. It might not be a sustainable way to win, but these young Canucks will do enough to extend the series with a big win Tuesday to live to play another game. What especially intrigues me about this pick is the +195 odds on Vancouver to win, and the +320 odds on the Canucks to do it in regulation, which is more than enough to bet on a bounce-back from the Canucks.



Game 6 (Vegas Golden Knights lead 3-2)

September 3rd, 9:45 p.m., Rogers Place

It was the Thatcher Demko show for the Vancouver Canucks as the goalie kept his team alive in the postseason against the Vegas Golden Knights. His sensational play in goal kept the Golden Knights off the board despite a massive 43-17 advantage in shots and allowed his teammates to make the most of their few offensive chances. Both of Vancouver’s goals came on deflections that Robin Lehner could do nothing about, but they were otherwise stymied by the pressure Vegas was applying.

Demko should not have to pay for another drink when he goes out with teammates after he saved their butts Tuesday night. In his first career NHL playoffs start, he stopped 42 shots as Vegas kept pounding the net for his first career playoffs victory. The Canucks had just 17 shots in the game and had 13 other attempts rejected, which is still far fewer than the Golden Knights actually put on goal in Game 5. That’s clearly not a sustainable formula for success, but it’s also a bit troubling moving forward. Vegas is overwhelming Vancouver in a completely different way than St. Louis did because the Golden Knights are more skilled, and that is becoming an issue.

There’s nothing Vegas can do except tip its cap to Demko and focus on Game 6 on Thursday. Obviously the Golden Knights would have preferred Lehner stop more than 15 of the 17 shots he faced, but it can be hard as a goalie when your team is dominating possession to find a rhythm. The Golden Knights did so much right in Game 5 that it’s easy to chalk this up to a bad-luck loss and move onto the next game with the same energy. The 43 shots Vegas poured on goal plus the 22 attempts that were blocked in addition to the defending Vancouver did will take its toll on the Canucks, and Vegas knows that.

Vancouver needs to find a way to generate more offense or its season will end Thursday in Game 6. The Canucks will not win another game in this series with just 17 shots on goal, especially if Vegas has 26 more shots than Vancouver. The NHL betting sites in New Jersey have really honed in on Vegas as the favorite with absurd -250 odds for them to win Game 6. The odds are slightly better in regulation at -139, but that’s still shorter odds than most teams get to win an individual game in a playoffs series. I’m not going to get creative with my pick of Vegas to win the game, but my wager will be on less than 5.5 goals in regulation at +116 odds.



Game 7 (Series tied 3-3)

September 4th, 9:00 p.m., Rogers Place

Thatcher Demko stole yet another game for the Vancouver Canucks and now the last Canadian team standing is headed to Game 7 with the Vegas Golden Knights. For the second straight game, Vancouver was badly outshot and for the second straight game Demko had to bail out his team at times with tremendous saves, but once again the Canucks converted on their few chances to keep their season alive. Now the two teams have less than 24 hours to prepare for a Game 7 with a berth in the Western Conference Finals on the line.

If there was any doubt that Demko earned his drinks from teammates, Game 6 was the definitive proof. The 25-year-old made 48 saves for his first playoff shutout and backstopped Vancouver into Game 7. All of Vegas’ top scorers had plenty of cracks at Demko, but he set aside every puck he faced and the Canucks blocked 21 other shots from reaching him. Those 21 blocks were just two fewer than Vancouver actually put on goal, but the Canucks were clinical in executing against Robin Lehner. The turning point for Vancouver was J.T. Miller’s early third-period goal that doubled the lead to 2-0 and gave the Canucks some breathing room after playing more than 38 minutes with just a one goal lead and facing a Vegas onslaught.

There are two ways Vegas can react to these last two games: the Golden Knights could let the frustration overtake them or they could believe that the goals are just going to come in waves once a puck goes in. The latter is the mindset they will have to take into Game 7 now that Demko has stopped 90 of the 91 shots they’ve fired at him in these last two games. The chances are absolutely there for Vegas as is the domination of possession, so the goals should come eventually, but time is certainly running out. The Golden Knights will need to convert more in Game 7 if they want to advance, but just as important is they need to keep Vancouver off the scoreboard early. It’s one thing to be dominating possession and shots in a tied game, but the pressure ramps up if you actually need a goal and the clock is working against you.

If Demko can repeat his performance from Games 5 and 6 on short rest in Game 7, then kudos to the kid. He has been unbelievable in these last two games to help the Canucks force a Game 7, but this just doesn’t look like a sustainable way to beat the Golden Knights. Once again, Vegas had twice as many shots on goal as Vancouver and the Canucks blocked more than 20 shots from reaching goal. The notion that Vancouver could survive being that badly out-possessed and outshot in three straight elimination games seems unthinkable, so I’m picking Vegas to advance to the conference finals.



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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

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