You can talk all you like about Chandler Stephenson’s two goals in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, leading the charge in Vegas’ 3-2 win over Florida on Saturday, pushing the Golden Knights to the verge of winning their first NHL championship in franchise history.
You can keep talking about Jonathan Marchessault being the favorite to win the Conn Smythe.
Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, or, William Karlsson, who scored the third goal for Vegas. You can talk about any one of them.
But make no mistake, the biggest reason the Golden Knights are one win away from hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup is arguably 27-year-old goaltender Adin Hill, who has just 101 regular-season starts to his credit, including 27 this past season, when he spent more time in the American Hockey League and was barely thought of as the postseason approached.
“They keep scoring more goals than we do,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said after Saturday’s loss.
Because Hill has been outstanding throughout the first 15 playoff games of his career. In four games against the Panthers, he’s allowed just two goals in each of the three wins. In the Game 3 loss, he held them to one goal until the final moments, when Matthew Tkachuk tied the game with 2:13 left and Carter Verhaeghe won it 4:27 into overtime.
After Brandon Montour scored on a wicked pinball-like goal late in the second period and Aleksander Barkov netted his first of the series early in the third on Saturday, Tkachuk did his best to duplicate his Game 3 feat, but Hill’s outstretched left pad made a late save.
Replays showed it wouldn’t have counted, but that’s not the point.
Hill, who was likely considered to be the third netminder for Vegas before the postseason began, continues to shine game after game. He made 29 saves for his 10th win since stepping in during the middle of the second round.
“He’s been huge since he came in,” Marchessault said. “We wouldn’t be here without him. He’s such a great guy you want to battle for a guy like that every night.”
After all, Hill’s certainly battled in every way imaginable, showing no signs of intimidation when it’s come time to stand up for himself or his teammates.
Hill hasn’t been afraid to nudge, shove, or whack the opposition when they intrude on his space. When a melee ensued after the final horn Saturday, he wasn’t afraid to mix it up and throw blows with his teammates.
Statistically, brilliant comes to mind.
Among goaltenders who have made at least seven starts in the postseason, Hill ranks No. 1 with a .934 save percentage and is No. 3 with a 2.11 goals-against average.
And let’s not forget the guy he’s been outdueling during the Cup Final, veteran Sergei Bobrovsky, who, in contrast, has played in 642 regular-season games over 13 years, not to mention boasts two Vezina trophies.
Tuesday the netminders at opposite ends of their careers will take the ice with different missions. One will be looking for an improbable climax to the season, by lifting the most prized chalice in the world, the other will be protecting his team’s playoff life.
“We’ve played really well at home here in the playoffs, so you’ve got to feel pretty good going home with a 3-1 lead,” Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said.
Added Stephenson: “We’ve got a veteran group and we know what to do.”
But they’ve also got a young goalie who’s playing like a veteran and has proven he knows what to do.
“It’s exciting,” Hill said. “We’re one win away from our goal. We’ll get rested up, recover and get ready for Tuesday.”