If Hollywood was writing the script for the astonishing story of the Golden Knights’ inaugural NHL season, it would end with them winning the Stanley Cup at home in Game 7.
That once-unthinkable scenario isn’t so far-fetched after the Knights swept the Los Angeles Kings 4-0 in their first-round NHL playoff series to advance to the Western Conference semifinals against the San Jose Sharks.
Handicapper Dana Lane sees the series going seven games, but with apologies to Knights fans, predicts the Sharks will prevail in a Game 7 at T-Mobile Arena.
Sharks (+120) over Knights in series
“L.A. was a good test for Vegas, but San Jose is a different animal. This is a step up for Vegas and they struggled to score against L.A.,” said Lane (@DanaLaneSports). “They’re going to have to put up a lot more goals than they did against L.A. and I think that could be a problem.
“This is going to be a tough series. This series is going to make the L.A. series look like a joke. If this series is anything but riveting in every game, I would be surprised. They’re so evenly matched. It really is that close.”
Lane, who is 76-45-3 (62.3 percent) against the spread this season on his NHL Power Play picks in the Review-Journal, said San Jose’s depth will be the difference.
“Vegas certainly has depth, especially with (David) Perron on that third line. But one thing San Jose has that Vegas doesn’t have is an absolutely lethal fourth line,” he said, noting Marcus Sorensen and Melker Karlsson have combined for seven points in the past three games.
“Their depth is unheard of. When you talk about the bottom six forwards, that’s really where San Jose has the advantage, especially on offense. I know they’ll be able to create a lot more offensive chances than the Kings did and put a lot more pressure on (Marc-Andre) Fleury than L.A. did.”
The Knights scored seven goals against the Kings, bookending their sweep with a pair of 1-0 shutouts by Fleury.
“Don’t forget (San Jose goalie) Martin Jones has led these Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final (in 2016),” Lane said.
San Jose scored 16 goals, including eight in one game, in its 4-0 sweep of the Anaheim Ducks and has more team speed than the Kings did.
“Vegas was able to neutralize L.A. because it didn’t have the speed advantage. The Sharks are a much more dynamic team than they used to be, especially after picking up Evander Kane,” Lane said. “They create traffic in front of opposing goaltenders, which the Kings did not do.”
Knights (-135) over Sharks, Game 1
While Lane is backing San Jose in the series, he expects the Knights to win Game 1 at T-Mobile Arena.
“I actually like the Knights in Game 1,” he said. “I think Vegas will come out with an incredible amount of energy and win Game 1.”
Sharks over Knights, Game 2
But Lane expects San Jose to bounce back and win Game 2.
“Once they give San Jose a blueprint for what they’re going to do, I think San Jose will make an adjustment. And Pete DeBoer is one of the most underrated coaches in the NHL,” he said. “After they get used to the environment, the Sharks will probably return the favor in Game 2.”
Even if San Jose spoils the ending of the Knights’ storybook season, Las Vegas’ first major pro sports team still would have to be considered the greatest expansion team in sports history.
“We need to step back and be thankful that we were a part of this incredible journey this team has taken this city on,” said Lane, who has lived in Las Vegas for 26 years. “This is unbelievable what they’re doing. With all due respect to UNLV (basketball), this is the biggest thing that has ever happened to this town, sports-wise.
“This team and this sport has really brought a legitimacy to this city that many around North America didn’t think it deserved.”