It’s still just so hard to fathom. The Vegas Golden Knights, an expansion team, have taken 3-0 lead in the first round of the playoffs. Over the Los Angeles Kings.
A formidable team to say the least. A team with two Stanley Cups in the past six years, who have retained most of their core. The Golden Knights are making them look silly so far in this series.
To get here, the Knights had to put three goals past Jonathan Quick in 58-and-a-half minutes. But they did it. Starting with an excellent shift by the freshly-returned David Perron, leading to a goal by Cody Eakin (tying it at 1-1), the Golden Knights got themselves back into this game:
James Neal scored a little over eight minutes later, and William Karlsson got his first goal of the series, the game winner, just 21 seconds after that:
This was after no goals were scored between Alex Iafallo’s goal at 13:14 in the first and Eakin’s at 6:10 in the third. That Iafallo goal:
Alex Iafallo gives the Kings the lead. pic.twitter.com/FKOPDDeg75— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) April 16, 2018
The celebration was cut premature, however, by Anze Kopitar deflecting a puck past Marc-Andre Fleury, making the score 3-2. The Golden Knights again returned to form, though, and held onto the one-goal lead with an empty L.A. net.
For once, Quick looked human. He allowed three goals on 26 shots, good for just a .885 save percentage. Fleury was the one standing on his head, making 37 saves on 39 shots, a .949 save percentage. That was the difference, and Fleury continues to be the better goaltender in this series.
This was not a great game for Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb, who were on the ice for both goals against. On the first, they both focused on making a hit instead of keeping up with Kopitar, allowing him to get ahead of them, firing the primary assist to Iafallo.
On the second, McNabb could have played a lot closer to Kopitar, who was screening the goaltender. But that goal is really not on him, so much as it is on Reilly Smith, who, in an attempt to clear the zone (without icing the puck, 5-on-6 is hard) coughed up what could have been a game-changing turnover.
But besides that mistake, Smith had a great game. His ability to draw defenders led to Karlsson’s goal, on which he also got the primary assist. He was cutting through the defense quite easily, and was a big part of the first line’s best game so far this series.
Same with Perron, who was clearly fresh. His ability to be everywhere led to that game-tying and momentum-swinging goal from Eakin, even if he only got a secondary assist on the play. This was a game where the players who were fresh (Smith, Perron, Drew Doughty, Shea Theodore) were able to be separated from those who weren’t.
The chippy nature of this series also continued into this game, though with fewer hits. Instead, the post-whistle activity increased, leading to power plays throughout. Erik Haula hit Kopitar with the butt of his stick. Doughty elbowed Jonathan Marchessault in the same area he hit William Carrier. Dustin Brown hacked at Nate Schmidt’s calves. This hasn’t been an easy series for the Knights physically, and as long as it keeps going it won’t be.
The Knights continued to hold possession, albeit modestly:
With the Kings holding the hits advantage, the possession win for the Knights shouldn’t be surprising. The Kings battled back in the early second, but the Knights separated themselves again. The other noticeable trait in this game:
The Golden Knights figured out that high-danger shots from Quick’s left worked for them in Game 2. They targeted Quick there, and it worked. It will be interesting to see whether the Knights do that again in Game 4.
The Knights are going to look to build off this offense next game, and they remain in charge of momentum. While they did a solid job of fending off Los Angeles’s desperation in the first period, the entire next game will be desperation mode for the Kings.
It will be important for the Knights to do more than handle it, and to take advantage.