The Vegas Golden Knights gave the Colorado Avalanche all they could handle but it wasn’t enough as they eventually fell 3-2 in overtime to trail 2-0 in their second-round NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs series.
It was yet another case of the Golden Knights dominating for long stretches but unable to put the puck in the back of the net. The series will now travel back to Las Vegas, where the Golden Knights will try to dig themselves out of a deep hole.
The defining moment came just 44 seconds into overtime when the Golden Knights Reilly Smith was called for a slashing penalty in the offensive zone. His stick collided with Mikko Rantanen’s, a collision that eventually left Rantanen without a stick. When asked about it after the game, head coach Peter DeBoer was quick to mention that he felt as if Avalanche players had been embellishing calls the whole game.
“Just a soft call,” DeBoer said after the game. “I can’t even blame the referee on it as they [Colorado Avalanche players] fooled them on it.”
The Golden Knights now head home, where they need to take care of business and win both games in front of a sold-out crowd of over 17,000 fans at T-Mobile Arena. That will be a tall task against a President’s Trophy-winning Avalanche team, but the Golden Knights have been one of the best teams at home this season and a raucous crowd should help.
They proved that they could win this series with their effort tonight, something that wasn’t obvious after a devastating Game 1. While winning four of the next five games is daunting, the Golden Knights are ready to approach it one game at a time, and it starts on Friday at 7 PM PDT.
A rejuvenated Golden Knights effort
The Golden Knights looked like a completely different team tonight than they did in Game 1. They played much more aggressively, not sitting back and letting the Avalanche overwhelm their static defense, and were the aggressors for most of the game. In the last two periods, the Golden Knights controlled play and put pressure on the Avalanche.
This was a much-needed bounce back from the pathetic effort in Game 1. Whether it was the extra day of rest, a renewed focus, or Fleury’s return, something about tonight’s game, was different and that was evident from the moment the puck dropped.
“I thought we played really well. We didn’t have a great start to the game but played great as the game went on,” said Vegas captain Mark Stone. “The good news is that we lost two here but go home to 18,000 fans and can take care of home-ice and come back here tied up.”
Golden Knights face another hot goalie
Yet again, the Golden Knights have to go against a red-hot goalie. For the past two years, it has felt like goalies have always performed their best when facing the Golden Knights, and tonight, that was no different. Philip Grubauer showed why he’s nominated for the Vezina Trophy as he made multiple highlight-reel saves.
During the second half of the game, the Golden Knights turned it on and kept the puck deep in the Avalanche zone for long periods. They also had multiple breakaways and other scoring chances off the rush, but Grubauer was up to the test every time.
One highlight that sticks out is a Grubauer save on Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch late in the third period, one where the goalie flashed the glove to keep the game tied at 2.
While some may point to the Avalanche’s dominant play as a large factor for why Grubauer is a Vezina nominee, tonight, he proved that as flawed thinking. He was spectacular from start to finish and gave the Avalanche a chance to win despite being heavily outplayed.
The importance of special teams
Special teams played a huge role in tonight’s game, as they often do in playoff hockey. The power play has been one of the Golden Knights’ biggest issues this season as it has been merely average while they have been excellent in so many other facets of the game.
Tonight they converted a goal on an early power play when a shot from Alec Martinez found the back of the net. While that was a welcome development, they also had another power play with under four minutes to go in the third period that they failed to score on. Despite heavy pressure, they couldn’t find a way to beat Grubauer.
While the power play was average converting on 1-of-3 attempts, the penalty kill hurt the Golden Knights in this game. They gave the Avalanche six opportunities, way too many for one of the deadliest units in the league, and allowed two goals.
One of those two goals was the overtime winner. Mikko Rantanen picked a corner and put the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury after a Reilly Smith penalty. The Golden Knights dominated this game at even strength, but at the end o the day, their special teams’ woes were too severe to overcome.