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Trade-deadline pickup keeps paying dividends for Knights

Edmonton Oilers defenseman Vincent Desharnais appeared to have all the time in the world as he circled behind his net with the puck in the first period Wednesday.

That is, until Ivan Barbashev entered the picture.

Desharnais’ skates didn’t even reach the goal line before Barbashev stretched his stick out to disrupt a potential breakout pass.

The puck was in the Oilers’ net four seconds later. Barbashev took advantage of the turnover he created to set up center Nicolas Roy for a look in tight, then flung the resulting loose puck past goaltender Stuart Skinner to tie Game 1 of the Golden Knights’ second-round series with Edmonton at 1.

Plays like that show why Barbashev has been a seamless fit since arriving in a Feb. 26 trade from the St. Louis Blues. His hard work on the forecheck and in front of the net has been so key to the Knights’ five-on-five game, and it’s why they’re finding success with him on the ice.

“He’s one of those guys that thrives in this time of year,” defenseman Zach Whitecloud said. “He’s good in all situations. He can play on the power play, he can kill penalties. Great in the D zone. Smart player. Can play with anyone up and down the lineup. I think those types of guys are hard to find.”

The Knights have tried to lean into their forecheck in the postseason, knowing rush chances often dry up later in the year. It’s a style that fits Barbashev’s strengths to perfection.

Coach Bruce Cassidy said the best part of the 27-year-old’s game is creating havoc and turnovers. It’s what Barbashev did when the Knights needed a goal in double overtime in Game 3 of their first-round series against the Winnipeg Jets.

He chased defenseman Dylan Samberg into the corner, deflected a pass into the slot for right wing Michael Amadio and celebrated the win seconds later.

Barbashev’s ability to pressure opponents with his physicality on offense also extends to his play in front of the crease. Two of his three playoff goals so far have been deflections, and all three have come within 17 feet of the net.

“He’s a guy that you need this time of year,” Cassidy said. “Those type of goals are valuable.”

The Knights knew they were getting a skater with playoff pedigree in Barbashev.

He was part of St. Louis’ Stanley Cup run in 2019, scoring six points in 25 games while primarily playing a defensive role on the fourth line. The Blues beat Cassidy’s Boston Bruins in seven games to win the franchise’s first championship.

Barbashev has been at a new level this year. He’s moved around a bit, but his main spot has been as a complementary winger for center Jack Eichel and right wing Jonathan Marchessault. The Knights have a 12-6 edge in high-danger scoring chances with the trio on the ice at five-on-five this postseason. Barbashev has five points in six games, including the first two-goal game of his playoff career Wednesday.

“I mean, it’s nice, to be honest,” Barbashev said. “It goes to the players who were out there with me. They’ve done a really good job creating goals.”

Barbashev deserves plenty of credit himself for the way he’s played. General manager Kelly McCrimmon said “Ivan’s exactly the type of player we believe we need” after the trade happened. Marchessault called Barbashev “the answer” to their line in March.

Those words look more and more accurate as time goes on. Barbashev’s hard work on the offensive end keeps getting results for the Knights, even as the stakes raise with each passing game.

“He’s not flashy, but those were big goals for us,” Cassidy said. “And when we talk about why we’re good five-on-five, it’s players like Ivan that chip in.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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