There are some that are opposed to a 24-team Playoff format because of the Carey Price effect, but don’t rule out Vegas Golden Knights ace Marc-Andre Fleury.
It has been over two months since the NHL and the entire sporting world came to a grinding halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic, although we have been offered hope in recent days that the Vegas Golden Knights could return sooner rather than later.
Per Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, the NHL and the NHLPA have been locked in talks over a potential return for hockey this summer, with a 24-team expanded Playoff format gathering a lot of momentum.
The basic premise is that those teams on the bubble would contest a play-in game to sneak into the postseason, with the top seeds including the Golden Knights getting a First-Round bye.
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These talks were expected to continue this week but LeBrun’s piece obviously sparked a lot of excitement among hockey fans.
For the first time since the sporting world went on lockdown we have genuine hope that a Stanley Cup Champion could be crowned in 2019-20 still, and the prospect of the Golden Knights returning is very, very exciting.
However, the famous Larry Brooks of The New York Post has reported today that some players are pushing for a best-of-five First Round as opposed to a best-of-three given that there is genuine concern over Carey Price.
Why you ask?
Well, under this 24-team Playoff format, the Montreal Canadiens would get the opportunity to extend their season despite selling off assets at the Trade Deadline.
They would have to contest a play-in and some players are fearful of the impact a recharged and red-hot Price could have for the Canadiens in a shortened series.
You can understand those fears given Price’s impressive resume and credentials, while he is one of the best netminders in the game when healthy and at the peak of his powers.
As elite as Price is, Montreal will be in the Eastern Conference bracket, but the Western Conference will have their own version of Price to worry about.
Although there were a few rough patches in 2019-20, Fleury is a sure-fire future Hall of Famer and he’s still capable of being a game-changer when his team needs him most.
Just rewind back to Nov. 19, 2019 when, holding a slender 3-2 lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs at T-Mobile Arena, Nic Petan had the game-tying goal on his stick with a wide-open net to aim for.
It looked a certain goal but, unfortunately for Petan and the Leafs, they didn’t count on Fleury mimicking Superman to leap through the air and pull off absolute heroics with a jaw-dropping glove save.
It was sensational and the mechanics of the save epitomized everything that is great about Fleury’s natural game and his sheer ability between the pipes.
He also produced countless other highlight-reel saves in 2019-20 prior to the NHL going on hiatus, proving that he’s still got it despite his advancing years.
Then there is the incredible postseason resume.
Three Stanley Cups, five Stanley Cup Finals appearances and a plethora of mouthwatering clutch moments with the pressure really on.
Take THAT save against the Detroit Red Wings in the dying seconds of Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, for instance.
I mean Golden Knights fans have seen firsthand what Fleury is capable of in the postseason after he played a key role to the 2017-18 Stanley Cup Final.
He’s a cold-blooded killer who loves performing with the bright lights on him, and that’s certainly the case in the Playoffs.
Plus, here’s the important thing to remember; Fleury will be recharged, revitalized and raring to go if hockey does come back this year.
If the NHL gives the green light to the 24-team Playoff format and the Golden Knights get a First-Round bye, Fleury will be at 100 percent by the time the Second Round starts.
And that’s horrific news for whoever may face Vegas.
A fully heathy and rested Fleury at the peak of his powers would give the Golden Knights a considerable and substantial advantage in the Playoffs, and you need elite goaltending in the postseason.
You can’t win championships without great goaltending, after all.
So, while a healthy Carey Price would be a near-impossible code to crack in the Eastern Conference, Marc-Andre Fleury should be feared by the West in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
He has the ability to be as big a game-changer for the Vegas Golden Knights as Carey Price is for the Montreal Canadiens.