The Vegas Golden Knights entered play tonight looking to add another ‘first’ into their team history books with their first ever series win.
The Los Angeles Kings, alternatively, hoped to extend the series at least to a fifth game so as not to gain the distinction of ‘former Stanley Cup Champion who lost in the first round to an expansion team via a sweep.’
Big night all around, some might say.
Which means the story of the night from the moment the puck was dropped on Game 4 had to be:
Responding to Pressure
Early on the Kings were the ones dictating the pace of play. Their desperation fueling them to an early 8-1 lead in the shot department, and a 16-2 shot attempt advantage.
By the end of the frame it was clear the Kings, a veteran group of players who have (in some cases) multiple Stanley Cup rings, were unfazed by the pressure of the situation. The Knights were outshot 14-8 and dominated in the overall possession numbers 33-11 as the Kings took advantage of sloppy play from the Pacific Division champs.
Yeah, it was rough.
However, as was the story in Game 1, the game remained scoreless after the first 20 minutes thanks in large part (pretty much entirely, really) because of Marc-Andre Fleury who held the door.
His work made it possible for the Hockey Gods, hallowed be their name, to shine down upon the Golden Knights and gift to them an early second period lead.
And you know it had to be divine intervention at play as it was a shot from Brayden McNabb, which is Latin for “man who scores five goals on the season, just two shy of matching his previous entire 238-game career output in goals,” found its way behind Jonathan Quick.
Fantastic puck movement by Karlsson and Smith to set up the goal. pic.twitter.com/J6Ruc0Pmdk— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) April 18, 2018
Responding to the pressure of the situation is not just about scoring first, though the Golden Knights did that too, but dealing with the onslaught of the other team, weathering the proverbial storm, and answering it with one of your own.
That’s the true mark of a great team.
Somehow starting the third period with a lead is more stressful than being down a goal...
That said, for those wondering, the Kings had continued to dominate the possession battle through the first two periods.
Though shots were just 21-15 in favor of the Kings, the shot attempts were 51-28. Or, put another way, the Kings had a team-wide 65% Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5. Again, Marc-Andre Fleury was the sole reason the Knights weren’t down by many, many goals.
Yet, somewhat inexplicably, the Golden Knights entered the third period with a lead, just 20 minutes removed from ending the series in L.A in front of their home crowd.
The period itself was very back and forth with both teams taking turns controlling the pace of play, all leading to the the 7:43 mark when Reilly Smith took the first penalty of the period setting the Kings up to finally get on the board.
Except... they didn’t.
Vegas continued their strong series-long play on the penalty kill (12 of 13 on the kill in the series) and before anyone knew it, the penalty was killed and we were in the final minute of play with the Kings struggling to get the puck into the Vegas zone.
And then... madness.
Suddenly and without warning a loud noise echoed through the Staples Center and everyone stopped playing... Ladies and gentlemen, this is no joke; The Vegas Golden Knights won the game 1-0 and completed the sweep of the Los Angeles Kings.
Some final stats
Final shots on goal: LAK 131 - VGK 130
Number of goals: LAK 3 - VGK 7
Anze Kopitar with one goal and one assist in the series.
Drew Doughty, zero points.
Jeff Carter, zero points.
Jonathan Quick: 124 of 131 for a .947 save percentage.
Marc-Andre Fleury: 127 of 130 for a .977 save percentage. Two shutouts.
Saying Goodbye to the Los Angeles Kings
To the nice fans, I say that it has been an absolute privilege to face you and your team in the first round. There is no better team for the Golden Knights to have played to kick off their playoff run.
The games were close. The intensity was real. Quick was every bit as good as advertised. It was great, and we thank you for it.
Now... the rest of you. Yeah, we hear you.
“The expansion draft was rigged!”
“Drew Doughty was suspended that one game!”
“No way you beat <winner of the other Pacific division series>!”