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Graney: Unlike 2022, Knights overcome obstacles to make playoffs

Updated April 20, 2024 - 5:08 pm

Maybe it’s because they experienced it before. Maybe some better fortune fell their way this time. Maybe they’re just more apt to overcome such adversity.

But unlike in 2022, when injuries hit the Golden Knights like Maxx Crosby might an unsuspecting quarterback, this season has concluded with a playoff berth.

It’s not going to surprise many who have followed the successful run of the Knights — about to embark on their sixth postseason journey in seven years — that the team is about as healthy as it has been all year at the most significant of times.

There is no shock value here.

Mark Stone is back. So is Alex Pietrangelo. So is Will Carrier. All practiced Saturday with no limitations. All seem prepared to enter the lineup when the Golden Knights open their first-round series at Dallas on Monday.

Pro sports, man. The Knights lost more than a reported 500 man games in 2022 due to injury and missed the playoffs for it. They were stung in a somewhat similar manner this year as well, but discovered a way to qualify as a second wild card.

But they’re in. All that matters.

“It’s a hard league to make the playoffs in, and the challenges we had with the team this year makes it all the more remarkable,” general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “When we had the amount of injuries we had — I know that I’m tired of talking about and you’re tired of hearing about it — definitely made it a more challenging season for coaches and players.”

LTIR trending

Stone had a Grade 3 lacerated spleen. Pietrangelo had his appendix removed. These were hardly your sore shoulder and knee ailments. But the fact Long Term Injured Reserve was trending Saturday isn’t a surprise.

Folks will and have again cried foul at the rule that allows teams to put a player such as Stone on LTIR and use his salary cap hit to acquire other players at, say, the trade deadline. The injured player can then be activated for the playoffs, when there is no salary cap.

There’s a reason most general managers don’t want the statute changed.

You never know when it might benefit your side.

The Knights are obviously better with Stone at a wing and Pietrangelo on defense and Carrier adding quality depth to a fourth line. But it’s not like they can’t succeed without them. Each gives them a better chance to win. They’re also good enough to do so regardless. Just a whole lot tougher to do so.

McCrimmon believes there were a few turning points to the season that catapulted the Knights to this playoff berth. One was at the trade deadline, when the names (and skillful games) of Noah Hanifin and Anthony Mantha and Tomas Hertl were acquired.

Another was a late-season road trip through St. Louis and Nashville and Winnipeg and Minnesota, when the Knights earned seven of a possible eight points. All while missing key ingredients to the lineup.

“A long season, a lot of emotions,” center Nicolas Roy said. “It takes a lot of character and next-man-up mentality.”

Monday in Dallas

They’re here. They’re healthy. They’re preparing to make a run at a second straight Stanley Cup.

All those who were away are back. All such important pieces to the often long and difficult puzzle to solve that are the playoffs.

“One thing at a time,” McCrimmon said. “We’re excited about Monday night in Dallas. That’s the first order of business. We’re the defending champions, so I think they know what it feels like when it works the way you want it to.

”We had a lot of work to do with the injuries over 82 games, but this is fun. It’s high stakes and high stress, but it’s why you’re involved in sports. For opportunities like this.”

Turned out different than 2022. They overcame things to qualify this time.

Maybe it’s just meant to be.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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