Published Saturday, May 20, 2023 | 3:13 p.m.
Updated 2 hours, 41 minutes ago
Call it coincidence that the Golden Knights are 3-0 with Teddy Blueger in the lineup this postseason.
Maybe it’s just happenstance that when Blueger made his playoff debut May 12 at home in Game 5 against the Edmonton Oilers that, after winning that that contest, the Golden Knights clinched the second-round series two days later in Edmonton.
And then there are moments like Friday, scoring the second postseason goal of his career in a tie game and being vital to Vegas’ 4-3 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final over the Dallas Stars, that show how well-rounded he’s been since the Golden Knights acquired him in a March 1 trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Blueger is the latest in a laundry list of players that have made an impact this postseason. It’s a main reason why the Golden Knights will try to take a 2-0 series lead on Sunday (noon, ABC).
“You’re waiting for your chance and staying ready,” Blueger said. “I prepared to get back in and fortunately that chance came.”
The acquisition of Blueger prior to the trade deadline didn’t feel like a necessity at first. The Golden Knights were deep enough at center that adding Blueger, best known for winning defensive-zone faceoffs, wasn’t going to see much time.
Then, Nicolas Roy missed more than a month with a lower-body injury and that opened the door for Blueger to see time on the fourth line. Coach Bruce Cassidy saw Blueger plenty in Pittsburgh when he coached the Boston Bruins and felt the Latvian native’s contributions could extend to the offensive zone.
Blueger had two goals and four assists in 18 games with the Golden Knights to cement that belief.
“We have good depth in all positions,” Blueger said. “Whoever’s in the lineup can do their job.”
Tough decisions were made prior to the playoffs as the Golden Knights neared full strength. Mark Stone’s return from back surgery, followed by William Carrier’s return in Game 5 of the opening round against the Winnipeg Jets after missing a month and a half with a lower-body injury, was going to force Cassidy’s hand.
Once Vegas got to full strength, any change was going to be performance-based. The odd man out was Michael Amadio.
Amadio had the best regular season of his career with 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists) while skating with William Karlsson and Reilly Smith. The career year continued in the playoffs with Amadio scoring the winning goal in double-overtime of Game 3 against the Jets. But after scoring in Game 1 against the Oilers, Amadio had just one shot on goal in Games 2 through 4, prompting the change for Blueger.
In the time he spent as a healthy scratch, the 28-year-old Blueger stayed ready with extra work after practice, and worked with assistant coaches Misha Donskov and Ryan Craig on his conditioning and other aspects of his game that he can improve on.
“It’s a credit to him for staying ready, first and foremost,” Cassidy said. “He kept himself ready so that if he got his opportunity, he wouldn’t be behind and he hasn’t been. He earned his right to stay in, so we’ll keep it that way, so long as it works for us.”
The only downside to Blueger’s goal was that he didn’t get a full celebration. His third-period tally to give Vegas a 3-2 lead Friday happened after Keegan Kolesar crashed the net and brought three Stars skaters with him, barreling into Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger.
Blueger was there for the rebound, but it was a delayed celebration waiting to see if the referee was going to call it a goal or not. Dallas coach Pete DeBoer thought about challenging for goaltender interference but chose against it.
“It kind of dulled down because Keegs was laying there and it’s like, ‘what’s going on?’” Blueger said. “In the back of your mind, you’re like, ‘hopefully they don’t challenge.’ Great feeling as soon as they dropped the puck and kept rolling.”
Blueger’s presence has allowed Roy to move to second-line right wing with Karlsson and Smith in creating the best all-around line the Golden Knights have right now. Defensively, the Karlsson line has allowed just one goal the last three games. In Game 1, Karlsson’s line shut down Dallas’ top line of Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski and outscored them 2-1 at 5-on-5 with Karlsson scoring both goals.
Blueger’s line was tasked with defending Dallas’ second line of Max Domi, Mason Marchment and Tyler Seguin. The Stars’ trio was on the ice for Blueger’s goal and were each minus-3 at 5-on-5.
“Such a hard-working guy,” Roy said of Blueger. “We knew he was going to be ready, and he’s been really good for us.”
Cassidy hasn’t needed to make many panic changes to the lineup. It’s been what the matchups have called for. In Blueger’s case, the matchup calls for it again. While Cassidy has relied on the fourth line in the past to shut down the opposition’s top line, the line did its job to a different degree on Friday.
Blueger has been at the right place at the right time since coming to Vegas. Game 1 proved that theory true again.
“These are the games you want to play in, you dream of playing your whole life,” Blueger said. “The higher the stakes, the more intense. It’s been good.”