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January 18, 2021

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Chicago’s postseason experience? Golden Knights have it too

Golden Knights Beat Avalanche in Overtime

Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

Vegas Golden Knights celebrate a goal during the econd period of an NHL Stanley Cup hockey qualifying round game against the Colorado Avalanche, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020.

The Golden Knights’ playoff opponent in the first round has been there and done that.

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup three times in the last decade and still have that same core group of players from those championship runs. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith have been through many postseason battles in 130 or more playoff games with Chicago.

Yet, this team is a shell of its former self — in fact, the Blackhawks were well on their way to missing the playoffs this season, so they traded off key players at the deadline.

Chicago, of course, isn’t the only team in this series with battle-tested veterans. The Golden Knights are two seasons removed from winning the Western Conference.

Game 1 is 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, and will be aired on AT&T SportsNet in Las Vegas.

“We’ve got a core group of guys that have been to the Stanley Cup Final, who know what the playoff wars are about,” Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said.

Marc-Andre Fleury brings three championships and more than 100 postseason appearances to the Vegas room. Alec Martinez has two. Brayden McNabb and Chandler Stephenson have also raised the Cup over their heads, and 11 current Golden Knights were on the Western Conference champion team of 2018.

And Vegas is getting another playoff-worn veteran back in time for the first round. DeBoer said Sunday that Max Pacioretty has completed his quarantine and will practice with the team Monday. He is expected to play in Game 1.

Pacioretty provides an offensive boost to a team who hasn’t exactly needed it this postseason. The Golden Knights scored five goals per game in their three round-robin contests, the best average in the league.

Pacioretty led the Golden Knights with 32 goals and 66 points while playing in all 71 games this season. He was the power-play engine with a team-best eight goals and 19 points with the extra man, and Evolving-Hockey’s model tabbed him to be worth 16.9 goals above replacement, 12th in the league and tops on the Golden Knights.

His arrival will have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the lineup. He figures to reclaim his spot on the top line’s left wing, which would displace Stephenson. When Pacioretty was healthy in camp, Stephenson played left wing on the third line, with round-robin third-liner Nick Cousins playing fourth-line center, a spot occupied last week by Tomas Nosek.

DeBoer said he’s unsure exactly how the lineup will look when the Golden Knights begin play this week, but it’s nice for him to have options.

“It gives us more depth, it adds our leading scorer back into our lineup, it helps our power play,” DeBoer said. “He helps us in a lot if different areas.”

Pacioretty played in 38 postseason games with Montreal, and had 11 points in seven games with Vegas last year. Everyone but Zach Whitecloud and Nicolas Roy had postseason experience coming into the year, and those two look comfortable, already netting goals.

Chicago has its leaders, but its young core of forwards is getting its first taste of the postseason. DeBoer has led a team to the Final twice, and Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton is making his playoff debut this year.

The Blackhawks have the household names, the franchise icons, the playoff heroes. But it’s not like they’re facing a Golden Knights squad that doesn’t know what it takes.

“Whether you have a Stanley Cup ring I don’t think is the most important thing,” DeBoer said. “I do think having been through a long run and understanding the highs and lows of that and what you deal with is something that is important, and I think we have a lot of that.”

Golden Knights-Blackhawks playoff schedule:

Game 1 — 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Game 2 — 2:30 p.m. Thursday

Game 3 — 5 p.m. Saturday

Game 4 — 3:30 p.m. Sunday

Game 5* — Aug. 18, TBD

Game 6* — Aug. 20, TBD

Game 7* — Aug. 22, TBD

*if necessary

Justin Emerson can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected]. Follow Justin on Twitter at twitter.com/@j15emerson.