Western Conference Final set: Two Cinderella stories collide

PHOTO BY TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

With their dominating 5-1 win over the Nashville Predators Thursday night, the run-and-gun Winnipeg Jets officially have a date with the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final.
The two teams have bucked the notion that an NHL team needs experience in the playoffs to succeed.

This 2nd generation of the Jets had never won a playoff game (let alone a series) before this year. 
The Golden Knights didn't even exist before this season. 
Both teams had similar question marks surrounding them before the year began. Could their starting goalies rebound? Could their unproven youth rise up to meet the challenge? Would their few veterans lead by example?
All questions asked- and answered. 
Now the two new kids on the block will fight to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Final (another place that neither one have been).

On the surface, it appears that Winnipeg has the edge in this street fight. Although Vegas took the season series 2-1-0 (see below), the Jets have arguably had a steeper climb in the playoffs to get to this point. 

2018/02/01 Vegas 3 -  Winnipeg 2(OT) 
2017/12/01 Vegas 4 -  Winnipeg 7      
2017/11/10 Vegas 5 -  Winnipeg 2     

Making short work of a decent Minnesota Wild team in a gritty 5 game series , then besting the cup-favorite Predators by going the full series distance is a tremendous achievement. 
The Golden Knights on the other hand seemed to have walked to the Conference Final relatively unscathed. 
They breezed through the first round when they swept Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty (otherwise know as the only two players who showed up for the Kings). Then they held their own fairly well against a Sharks team that made short work of the over-hyped Ducks in the round before. 

Any hockey fan or analyst worth their salt knows that season stats don't necessarily translate to playoff results. So if you look at what these two teams have done in the playoffs so far, Winnipeg seems to have the edge. Mark Scheifele is firing on all cylinders right now, Connor Hellebuyck is coming into his own and Dustin Byfuglien is throwing players around like they are rag dolls. 

But don't worry Vegas fans, your team has been an underdog all year and they continue to defy the odds. Marc-AndrĂ© Fleury is playing the best hockey of his life (a performance that is almost scary to watch when he is on) and the squad in front of him continues to utilize their greatest weapon to overwhelm opponents -  line depth.

In a straight slugging match, Vegas' first line (as impressive as it is with Smith, Karlsson, and Marchessault) probably doesn't have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with Scheifele and crew every shift. Nor does it look like the second Neal line can weather Laine's over time. 
Where the Golden Knights will have to preform is when their 3rd and 4th lines hit the ice. Both will have to out work their opponents and utilize that impressive forecheck to keep the Jets stifled in the neutral zone. 

Keys to success

Winnipeg: Solve Marc-André Fleury. Remind him that he is human, then everything should fall into place.

Vegas: Slow the Winnipeg offense down and lean on your depth to wear them out. To beat Connor Hellebuyck, pick your shots. Don't just throw every little thing at him (Didn't work out so well for Nashville). 

Who do you think will meet Tampa Bay or Washington in the Stanley Cup Final? Let us know!


Season numbers provided by mcubed.net.

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