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Knights defenseman proving clutch heading into Game 7

Coach Bruce Cassidy has done a lot of lineup shuffling in the first round of the playoffs.

That’s the downside in trying to incorporate three new players into the Golden Knights’ lineup with little time to find the right combinations.

He hasn’t had to worry about that with defenseman Noah Hanifin. His goal broke a scoreless tie in the third period Friday to force a win-or-go-home Game 7 against the Stars on Sunday at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

The Knights’ newest blue-liner didn’t have much time to acclimate to his new surroundings, but he made an immediate impact with 12 points in 19 regular-season games after he was traded from the Calgary Flames on March 6.

Hanifin fit right in because of similarities in systems between the Flames and Knights. Cassidy has trusted him wherever he is in the lineup — whether on the top pairing with Alex Pietrangelo or Nic Hague, or with Ben Hutton or Zach Whitecloud on the third pair.

“The way it played out, we didn’t have the opportunity to build one pair for six weeks,” Cassidy said. “Sometimes that’s good for a player because all he does is go to the rink and say, ‘I’ve just got to play my game.’”

Hanifin’s first go-round of playoff action with his new team has also been seamless.

The 27-year-old has a playoff career-high five points (two goals, three assists) through six games. His game-winning goal in the 2-0 victory in Game 6 on Friday was his second of the series (Game 2).

For just his 33rd playoff game, it’s the impact the Knights hoped for when they acquired then signed him to an eight-year extension at a cap hit of $7.35 million on April 11.

“Ever since I got traded here, I’ve been super excited about the opportunity, coming to a team with guys that have won,” Hanifin said. “It’s just a great culture here, and I’m fortunate to be a part of it.”

Little blue-line offense

Offense has been hard to come by in a series where the cumulative score is 15-14 Knights through six games.

It’s been more difficult getting offensive contributions from the blue line.

Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore have combined for one point in the series. The Knights’ defense has combined for 11 points.

Five points each belong to Hanifin and Brayden McNabb, who took five games to tie his postseason career-high set in 2018.

Hanifin has been key in all situations. He’s taken the reins as the quarterback of the first power-play unit. His three assists have come at the man advantage and are a reason why the Knights’ power play has operated so well.

“Just trying to contribute any way I can,” Hanifin said. “I think that’s part of the culture. Everyone does their job and does it in different ways.”

Hanifin has never made it past the second round of the playoffs. He got there in 2022 with the Flames. The team Calgary beat in seven games to get to the second round? Dallas.

That Game 7 on May 15, 2022, was the start of the league getting to know Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger. He made 64 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss, with Hanifin recording a game-high nine shots on goal.

Friday proved again that it takes one shot to beat Oettinger. Hanifin has shown that twice already, and he gets another chance at that Sunday.

“It’s been a really tight series. There’s not a lot of room out there,” Hanifin said. “Looking forward to Game 7 here.”

Contact Danny Webster at dwebster@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DannyWebster21 on X.

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