The Vegas Golden Knights open a three-game homestand against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night, knowing that they’ll go into this weekend’s holiday break with at least a share of first place in the Pacific Division.
Considering the Golden Knights began 1-4-0 and played a large chunk of the season without first-line wingers Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone as well as second-line center William Karlsson, that would seem to portend good things ahead for Peter DeBoer’s squad.
Vegas enters Tuesday night’s contest tied with Anaheim for first place with 40 points but is scheduled to play twice this week, including a Thursday contest with the Los Angeles Kings. Meanwhile, the Ducks will be off after having their games at Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver postponed after the NHL halted cross-border trips over COVID concerns.
The Golden Knights have won five straight games, including all four on an eastern road trip that began with a 4-1 victory at Boston and included a 5-3 win over New Jersey, a 3-2 shootout victory over the New York Rangers and a 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders.
“What a road trip for our team,” said goaltender Robin Lehner, who made 29 saves in his first game back in Long Island since being a Vezina Trophy finalist with the Islanders in 2018-19. “I thought we had a great game in Boston. We didn’t play that great for the other two games but we grinded through and (Sunday) we came back and got two points.”
Vegas, which played without Stone while he sat out with an upper-body injury, has won eight of its last nine games.
“I think our game was starting to come around prior to the trip,” said Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer. “I like how we’re playing. We’re starting to get healthy. I don’t think anyone ever predicts you’re going to sweep a four-game road trip, especially through these four cities. It doesn’t happen like that. I think you build into it.”
DeBoer said he didn’t expect Stone’s injury to be “long term.” Stone, who has four goals and 17 assists in 18 games, previously missed a month of action with what appeared to be a right knee injury.
Tampa Bay, tied with Toronto for first in the Atlantic Division with 42 points, also comes in on a roll. The Lightning have won seven of their last eight games, including a 2-1 victory over visiting Ottawa on Thursday. Victor Hedman had a goal and an assist and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 25 saves to set an NHL record with his 63rd victory of the calendar year.
Vasilevskiy, who is 63-21-4 in 2021 (regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs), broke the mark set by Marc-Andre Fleury (62-30-6) set in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“We’re just sliding under the radar, which is fine with us,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who tallied his 900th career point with an assist on Hedman’s goal. “Probably a little weird being a defending back-to-back Stanley Cup champion and we’re just sliding under the radar. It’s great for us.”
Tampa Bay was originally supposed to start its road trip at Colorado on Saturday but that game was postponed due to a COVID outbreak with the Avalanche. The Lightning, who flew to Las Vegas after a short practice on Sunday, also are scheduled to play at Arizona on Thursday.
–Field Level Media