weather icon Clear

NHL playoffs a different game from regular season

It’s thrilling. It’s exhilarating. It’s frustrating.

It’s the Stanley Cup playoffs, and Las Vegas will experience it for the first time thanks to the Golden Knights.

The Knights, who posted a 51-24-7 record, won the Pacific Division regular-season title and finished fifth overall in the NHL with 109 points, start their quest for the Cup on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings. To hoist the trophy, Vegas will have to win 16 games over the next two months.

“It’s the best postseason of any sport,” said general manager George McPhee, who went to the Stanley Cup Final as GM of the Washington Capitals in 1998. “But it’s hard to win it.”

Playoff hockey is different from the regular season. For starters, you’re playing the same team at least four times and as many as seven in a single series. The intensity level goes up dramatically. The officiating is different. Injuries happen, and roster depth becomes a factor. Luck plays a role. One weird bounce of the puck can mean the difference between moving on or being eliminated. A hot goaltender can steal a game or even a series.

Coach Gerard Gallant knows all this. He also knows the best way to be successful in the postseason is to not alter what got you there.

“We don’t want to change our style of play, and we’re not going to,” Gallant said. “We’ve been pretty successful doing what we’ve been doing. Sure, you’re going to have to make adjustments. But basically, we want to be who we are — a fast-skating team that works hard and competes every shift.”

Heightened intensity

Everything is magnified in the playoffs, and that puts pressure on the players not to make mistakes.

“But you also don’t want to be overly cautious,” said defenseman Nate Schmidt. “You still have to play your game. For us, that means moving quickly in transition and getting it out of our end.”

Center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said the successful teams simply don’t panic.

“Obviously, you don’t want to have a turnover and have the other team score on you,” he said. “But you have to realize as a team, if you fall behind early, there’s still plenty of time and you stick to your game plan.”

Defenseman Deryk Engelland said handling emotions is also a key to success.

“Everyone’s excited when the playoffs come around,” he said. “But you can hurt yourself if you get too excited. It’s important to stay on an even keel, play your game and focus on doing what you’re supposed to do.”

Familiarity breeds contempt

When you play the same team at least four times — and as many as seven — in a row, tempers will undoubtedly flare. But don’t expect the Knights to drop the gloves and duke it out.

“I’m sure guys will be chirping and you’ll see some hate,” Schmidt said. “Sometimes it takes time to develop, but eventually there are going to be guys who just don’t like each other, and there’ll be a lot of pushing and shoving. But you don’t see much fighting anymore.”

According to hockeyfights.com, the Knights, Winnipeg Jets and Carolina Hurricanes drew the fewest fighting majors in the NHL this season, with eight each. But don’t construe that as being soft. In Engelland, Ryan Reaves, William Carrier and Brayden McNabb, the Knights have enough muscle to handle things on the ice if need be.

“We’re a tough team, but we’re not a fighting team,” Gallant said. “There’s a big difference. I’m not worried about us being able to handle ourselves. We can play against heavy teams. We’ve done it all year.”

Different game, different calls

During the regular season, the Golden Knights saw plenty of different officiating crews. But the playoffs will bring the NHL’s best referees and linesmen. It will also mean adjusting to the way the game is called.

“You have no control over it,” Engelland said of the officiating. “You can’t let it get in your head. You just let the coaches handle it.”

Gallant said the fact the Knights were one of the least penalized teams in the league — No. 29 with an average of 6.9 penalty minutes per game — should not make officiating a major factor.

“I don’t want our guys to worry about who’s calling the game,” he said. “Obviously, we know the referees and what they like to call and not call. We have stats from our analytics department that we’re made aware of.

“But I always tell our guys, ‘You play the game and let me worry about the refs.’ It’s worked pretty good for us so far.”

But there will be times Gallant may challenge a call, be it for goaltender interference or for offsides before a goal was scored.

Last change, matching lines

For the coaches, matching lines and getting the right combinations on the ice are important in the playoffs.

As in the regular season, the home team gets to put its players out last. So when the Knights are hosting, Gallant will likely wait and see who Kings coach John Stevens has out on the ice before deciding who to send over the boards. It can become a chess match at times, but Gallant isn’t likely to get too caught up in it.

“I’m not a big matching guy,” he said. “But obviously there are going to be times where we may want a certain matchup against a certain line.

“I don’t like to match up a lot because I want our guys to have confidence that they can play against anyone. We’ve got four lines that can all skate and check, and I’m not afraid to use any of them. We’ve played four lines all year, and it’s been very successful for us.”


If a game is tied during the regular season, play shifts to a 3-on-3 overtime for five minutes, followed by a shootout if a winner hasn’t been determined.

But playoff overtime is old school — sudden death. It’s 5-on-5, and somebody has to win.

And unlike regular-season overtime, playoff overtime requires the ice to be resurfaced. So while the Zamboni makes its rounds, the players hydrate and the coaches formulate strategies.

You can play all night to determine a winner. The longest game in NHL playoff history was in 1936, when Detroit’s Mud Bruneteau scored in the sixth overtime to give the Red Wings a 1-0 win over the Montreal Maroons.

Great goaltending

Marc-Andre Fleury has three Stanley Cup rings from his days with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has stolen games and even series in his career. The Columbus Blue Jackets found that out last year, when Fleury backstopped the Penguins to an opening-round 4-1 series win while posting a save percentage of .933 overall and .967 at home.

“I don’t think there’s any one thing or one play that makes that happen,” Fleury said of getting hot. “I think it happens over the course of the series. Your teammates have a lot to do with it. When they’re playing well in front of you, it makes your job easier.

“It’s about trying to stay consistent and do the same thing.”

The fine line

James Neal went to the Stanley Cup Final last year with Nashville, losing to Fleury’s Penguins. He has played in 80 playoff games, the most of any Knights skater (David Perron is next with 42). He has 44 postseason points, including 25 goals. He knows how to have success on the game’s biggest stage.

“The little things make a huge difference,” Neal said. “In a seven-game series, the hits you make and where you make them. The physicality of play. Trying to wear the other team down. Winning faceoffs. Keeping control of the puck in the other team’s end. All of those things are important.

“You’re playing with the mentality that every game is huge. So if you lose a game, you have to be able to let that go and move on. And when you win, you feel great. But you have to put that behind you and refocus in. But it’s the best time of the year. You work hard all season to give yourself a chance” to win the Cup.

More Golden Knights: Follow all of our Golden Knights coverage online at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

Contact Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Golden Knights Videos
Mark Stone and Stanley Cup visit MGM Grand
Mark Stone took photos and signed autographs for Golden Knights fans at the MGM Grand on Sunday. The Stanley Cup also made its way into the MGM Grand Main Lobby. The most revered trophy in hockey is on display to celebrate the upcoming 2019 NHL awards at the Mandalay Bay Center on June 19th. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Golden Knights, Raiders Unite for Charity Softball Game - Video Highlights
Golden Knights and Raiders players alike were more than excited to join together in a charity softball game to raise money for pediatric cancer. Players from both teams cannot wait for the Raiders to arrive in Las Vegas so more joint events can take place.
Golden Knights and Raiders Raise over $100K in Charity Softball Game - Video Highlights
In the first-ever Battle For Vegas Charity Softball Game, the Golden Knights and Raiders raised $136,000 for the Tyler Robinson Foundation. At the end of the nights, it was the Raiders that raised the Battle For Vegas trophy, after beating the Golden Knights 20-16. Take a look at some of the highlights from the game!
Golden Knights' Reilly Smith Ready to Battle for Vegas - Video
Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith is ready to Battle For Vegas in a charity softball game that will feature various celebrity athletes, including teammates Jonathan Marchessault, Ryan Reaves and Erik Haula. Smith's team will face off against former Raider Marcus Allen and his teammates, including Vontaze Burfict, Josh Jacobs and Maurice Hurst. The charity softball game is set to take place on Saturday, June 15th at the Las Vegas Ballpark.
Golden Knights Will Have a New Home in Henderson - Video
The Golden Knights are saying goodbye to the Henderson Convention Center and hello to the team's new hockey facility that will be located in the second largest city in Nevada. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Golden Knights and Henderson make deal on new facility - VIDEO
Henderson City Council unanimously approved a lease agreement with the Vegas Golden Knights to build and operate an indoor ice hockey facility in downtown Henderson, Tuesday evening. ( Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Kelly McCrimmon Gets Promoted to Golden Knight General Manager - Video
The Vegas Golden Knights have announced that Kelly McCrimmon has been promoted to General Manager of the team, effective September 1, 2019. Regarding his new role, McCrimmon will represent the Golden Knights at the NHL's General Managers Meetings and will be the point of contact for other league GMs.
Golden Knights Say an "Awful Call" Cost Them the Series - Video
Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant and Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault believe that an "awful call" by the officials cost them game 7.
Golden Knights Fans Watch Game 7 at T-Mobile - VIDEO
Golden Knights went through a roller coaster in game 7 which lead to the Knights loss 5-4 in overtime.
Sharks & Golden Knights fans fired up for Game 7
Ahead of Game 7 in San Jose, Sharks and Golden Knights fans get hyped for the game in the fan zone at SAP Center.
Golden Knights prepare for Game 7 in San Jose - VIDEO
Vegas Golden Knigths players and the head coach talk about their mindset ahead of facing the San Jose Sharks in Game 7 on the road at the SAP Center.
Knights' Gallant Calls DeBoer a "clown" - VIDEO
Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant calls Sharks coach Pete DeBoer a "clown" and says his comments are a little "unclassy" for him in response to being called the master chirper for the Knights.
Golden Knights fans father outside T-Mobile Arena waiting for game 6 against the Sharks
Golden Knights gather outside the T-Mobile Arena ready to watch game 6 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the San Jose Sharks.
Knights aim to close out Sharks series at home - VIDEO
The Vegas Golden Knights players and head coach Gerard Gallant spoke about what needs to be done ahead of Game 6 at the T-Mobile Arena to clinch the series. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gerard Gallant talks ahead of Game 6
The Golden Knights coach talked about his team’s upcoming game with the San Jose Sharks after Saturday’s practice.
Coach Gallant Speaks to media about game 5 against the Sharks - VIDEO
Golden Knight's coach Gerard Gallant speaks at City National Arena following thursday's game 5 against the San Jose Sharks.
Golden Knights Fans Watch Game 5 At Henderson Pavilion - Video
Golden Knights fans gather at the Henderson Pavilion to watch game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the San Jose Sharks. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fans prepare for Game 5 of the Golden Knights-Sharks series
Golden Knights and Sharks fans took part in pregame festivities at the SAP Center in San Jose ahead of Game 5 of the playoff series.
Golden Knights Fans Land in San Jose - VIDEO
Four Golden Knights fans who traveled from Las Vegas talk about the experiences they've had in San Jose with fans and the police ahead of Game 5 and give their predictions for the final score of the game.
Shea Theodore says he's trying to be a threat in all phases - VIDEO
Vegas Golden Knights Defenseman Shea Theodore says he's trying to elevate his game in all phases and his teammate Alex Tuch talks about Theodore's growth as a player.
Knights preparing to play a "desperate" Sharks team on the road
The Vegas Golden Knights could close out their first playoff series on the road against the San Jose Sharks when Game 5 takes place at the SAP Center. The team says they're going to have to play their best to defeat a "desperate" opponent.
Coach Gallant speaks after practice, as the Golden Knights prep for Game 5
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant speaks to media after the team's open skate.
Sharks Coach: I think our emotions got away from us a little bit
Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer and center Joe Pavelski say the team needs to hold their emotions in check going forward. Pavelski talks about the Ryan Reaves effect.
2019 NHL Awards set for Mandalay Bay Events Center on June 19
During the 2018 NHL Awards in Las Vegas, tribute was paid to first responders and survivors of the Oct. 1 shooting by a handful of Vegas Golden Knights. NHL Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer said that's why the league is moving the show to the site of the tragedy. The Mandalay Bay Events Center will host the ceremony on June 19th.
Ryan Reaves says Joe Thornton's Hit was "Gutless" - Video
Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves says Sharks' forward Joe Thornton's hit on Tomas Nosek was "gutless." Thornton has been suspended for one game (game four on Tues., April 16) as a result of the hit.
Ryan Reaves Finally Throws Down with San Jose's Evander Kane - Video
Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves says the fight between him and Sharks' forward Evander Kane was nine years in the making. Spectators finally saw the two battle it out in game three of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Ryan Reaves Finally Throws Down with San Jose's Evander Kane - Video
Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves says the fight between him and Sharks' forward Evander Kane was nine years in the making. Spectators finally saw the two battle it out in game three of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Golden Knights rookie team coach Rocky Thompson on Rookie Faceoff
Golden Knights rookie team coach Rocky Thompson discusses team's 7-6 win over Colorado in the Vegas Rookie Faceoff
Fleury's newborn son attends Game 3 - VIDEO
Marc-Andre Fleury's newborn son and his wife Veronique were in attendance at the T-Mobile Arena during game 3. Fleury talks about having his family there to support him.
Sharks and Knights players get physical during game 3 - VIDEO
Several fights broke out during game 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Golden Knights and Sharks. Capping off the skirmishes was an intense showdown between Ryan Reaves and Evander Kane.
Golden Knights Fans Gather At T-mobile To Watch Game 3 Of The Playoffs - Video
Golden Knights fans gather outside of the T-Mobile arena to watch game three of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Knights GM says it was important for the team to sign Nikita Gusev
Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee says it was important for the team to sign Russian standout Nikita Gusev. The Knights announced they had signed the forward to a one-year, entry level contract on Sunday. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Marc-André Fleury on flamingo
Marc-André Fleury on flamingo
Golden Knights Watch Party For Game 2 Of Sharks Series - Video
Golden Knights fans gather at Top Golf to watch the second game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the San Jose Sharks.
Gallant addresses the media after practice following a 5-2 loss
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant addresses the media after practice following a 5-2 loss to San Jose in Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. (Ben Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gallant on lineup
Golden Knights Fans Gather Downtown For First Round of Playoffs - Video
Golden Knights fans gather downtown to watch the first game of the playoff series against the San Jose Sharks.
Golden Edge Mailbag - April 10, 2019 - VIDEO
Golden Knights reporters Ben Gotz and Adam Hill answer your burning questions.
Gallant on Golden Knights lineup against Sharks
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant on lineup against the San Jose Sharks for Game 1 of the first round in the Stanley Cup playoffs. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gallant on losing to the Avalanche
Gerard Gallant talks about the loss to Colorado. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gallant on Colorado loss
Gerard Gallant talks about the loss to Colorado. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gerard Gallant on Paul Stastny
Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant talks about Paul Stastny's role on the team. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gallant on St. Louis goal
Gerard Gallant talks about St. Louis's third goal on March 25, 2019. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gerard Gallant on St. Louis Blues
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant talks about the team's loss to St. Louis on March 25, 2019. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Erik Karlsson re-signs with Sharks for 8 years

The San Jose Sharks re-signed pending free agent Erik Karlsson to a $92 million, eight-year deal on Monday, turning a one-year rental into a long-term commitment to one of the league’s most dynamic defensemen.