It’s all happening, folks. After a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings in double overtime of Game 2 Friday night, the Vegas Golden Knights turned right back around and extended their series lead to three games with a gutsy 3-2 win in the Staples Center Sunday.
Don’t look now, but the (expansion team) Golden Knights can officially win the series with a win in Game 4 on Tuesday, which will also take place in Los Angeles.
Before we get too ahead of ourselves, though, let’s jump right in and go over what we learned from Game 3.
1. Marc-Andre Fleury stands on his head once again
Fleury’s been playing out of his mind for this entire series. Prior to Game 3, he stopped 59 of Los Angeles’ 60 shots on net, including a 30-save shutout in Game 1. Sunday night may have been his best performance of the series, though (and possibly the season), as he stopped 37 of the Kings’ 39 shots to guide Vegas to its 3-2 victory.
Of course, it’s hard not to give credit to Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, who has been almost superhuman this series. But when it comes down to it, Fleury’s playing better than any goalie in the NHL right now. And had he not missed so many games due to a concussion earlier in the season, you could make a legitimate case for him winning the Vezina.
2. The first line is finally finding its groove
The Golden Knights’ first line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith was quiet through the series’ first pair of games, but the trio finally broke loose Sunday night as each member of the line picked up a point in the Game 3 victory. Karlsson scored his first goal of the series while both Marchessault and Smith added helpers to the stat sheet.
The line is heating up at just the right time, too. Despite his team losing every game of this series, Jonathan Quick has been absolutely ridiculous in net for the Kings, and Vegas will need all of its top point producers to be firing on all cylinders in order to wrap this series up once and for all.
If Sunday night is any indication, it may only be a matter of time before the Knights’ top line explodes. In Game 3, Karlsson, Marchessault and Smith averaged a 66.59 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 and wreaked havoc in the offensive zone all night. It may be a bit overdue, but Vegas’ top point-getters are really starting to hit their stride.
3. Carrier quiet in Game 3
Carrier was money for the Golden Knights in Games 1 and 2, combining for 23 hits and filling the role as the physical agitator on Vegas’ bottom line. Surprisingly, though, Carrier’s not only been a physical tone-setter for the Golden Knights, but he’s also been a remarkably useful play driver. In Game 1, he led the team with a 75.00 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5, which is, um, pretty incredible.
That said, Carrier was somewhat of a non-factor in Game 3. The 23-year-old winger only received 5:17 of ice time Sunday night and failed to record a single shot on goal. Early in the contest, he and Kings forward Kyle Clifford were both assessed minor penalties for roughing. Head coach Gerard Gallant made it clear that he was unhappy with the careless penalties in Game 3, so maybe Carrier was given less ice time as a form of discipline. Either way, his minimal usage Sunday night was a bit of a shocker, especially considering how much of an impact he’s made in the series.
4. The penalty kill stepped up in a big way
The Golden Knights were shorthanded five times in Game 3 (not hard to see why Gallant was unhappy with the lack of discipline), giving Los Angeles numerous opportunities to take control of the contest. Luckily, Vegas’ penalty kill was invincible Sunday night and neutralized every man advantage awarded to the Kings.
A large reason why the Knights’ penalty kill has been so successful likely comes back to the play of Marc-Andre Fleury, but Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Deryk Engelland, Cody Eakin and the rest of the Knights’ top penalty killers have made life miserable for the Kings’ power play. This is a team that had the league’s 12th-ranked penalty kill percentage during the regular season, so it’s not too shocking to see the Knights having success against a team with a deficiency in scoring depth. But regardless, the Golden Knights have now successfully killed off 10 of the Kings’ 11 power plays this series, which definitely isn’t something to sneeze at.
5. This series is Vegas’ to lose
Some were legitimately concerned when it was announced that Vegas would be taking on the Kings in Round 1, and for good reason. The Kings had their way with Vegas in their final two regular season meetings in late February, which certainly left some feeling unsettled going into this series. However, the Golden Knights had a pair of new roster additions from the trade deadline slotting into the lineup both of those nights, so not everyone was on the same page in those final two meetings.
Fast forward a couple months, though, and here we are — ahead three games to zero with a chance to move on to the conference semifinals as soon as Tuesday night. This goes without saying, but at this point it would take a monumental collapse for Vegas to somehow lose this series. Stranger things have happened, but given how effective Vegas has been against Los Angeles’ rough and tough defense, it doesn’t feel very likely that the Knights will let this slip out of their hands.