The Golden Knights have evened up this best-of-seven Western Conference Finals series against the Jets after securing a 3-1 victory in Game 2.
Jonathan Marchessault had a statement game with eight shots and two huge goals, including the game-winner in the first period. Marc-Andre Fleury also had a clutch bounce-back performance, stopping 30 of 31 shots for a .968 save percentage, a significant improvement over Game 1 (.846).
A two-goal first period was the foundation of Vegas’ win.
It wasn’t the start Vegas was hoping for, as there were several plays early in the first that definitely could be classified as way too close for comfort, including this one:
So THIS wasn't great for my blood pressure. pic.twitter.com/ZVh7QnXIls— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 15, 2018
However, Fleury and the Knights tempered Winnipeg’s early push and eventually beat the Jets to the scoresheet later in the frame.
Ironically (but perhaps not surprisingly at all considering how Gerard Gallant has operated all season), the “new guy” (a.k.a Tomas Tatar) gave Vegas its first lead of the series.
Tatar was inserted into the lineup for the first time since May 2 after serving as a healthy scratch in seven out of Vegas’ 11 postseason games. Gallant’s decision paid off as Tatar finished the game with a team-high 73.33 Corsi For percentage and made a fantastic individual effort to get one behind Connor Hellebuyck at 13:23 of the first.
GOAL! Tomas Tatar sticks with it to give Vegas the 1-0 lead! pic.twitter.com/oAzwuJrNc6— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 15, 2018
Great puck movement from the third line. Welcome back to the lineup, Tuna. pic.twitter.com/obROtLbqvb— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 15, 2018
His persistence on the play seemingly opened the floodgates for the Knights offensively. In fact, Vegas stunned the crowd by taking a 2-0 lead four minutes later.
Nate Schmidt and Reilly Smith combined to force a turnover in the neutral zone, which sent Vegas on a 3-on-0 as the Knights capitalized on a sloppy line change by the Jets. Marchessault headed in on a breakaway and went five-hole on Hellebuyck after a forehand-backhand move, doubling Vegas’ lead at the 17:23 mark of the frame.
GOAL! Marchessault beats Hellebuyck five-hole! pic.twitter.com/OAP3S4FNMV— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 15, 2018
Fantastic work by Nate Schmidt and Reilly Smith in the neutral zone to get this going. Also, credit to @JesseGranger_ for pointing out Hellebuyck's issues with making five-hole saves. pic.twitter.com/IWaUZW8Vjz— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 15, 2018
Erik Haula immediately followed that up with a sublime scoring chance that went off the post and nearly found its way into the net.
Erik Haula nearly made it 3-0, but he couldn't beat the iron. pic.twitter.com/6BtH4Wr1Rr— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 15, 2018
The Knights hit iron again with under a minute left in the period but were unable to build on their lead. Still, it was a solid end to the opening frame and one that Vegas really needed to get back into this series.
Not the Knights' best period in terms of play driving, but they picked things up as the first third went on. Huge finish going into the intermission. pic.twitter.com/HRPPNtWdlq— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 15, 2018
The Jets responded with a solid effort in the middle frame, coming close on several opportunities. But Fleury stood tall and even got creative with some of his saves, including this one:
Despite Winnipeg’s best efforts, Vegas maintained the 2-0 lead through 40 minutes. However, a dicey start to the third period put things in jeopardy.
The Jets entered the third period with nearly a full two-minute power play. Though Vegas pulled off an impressive penalty kill thanks in part to this great save by Fleury, discipline proved to be an issue. The referees had largely put the whistles away earlier in the game, but Luca Sbisa took an ill-advised tripping penalty a few minutes later. Winnipeg would have its second power play in under six minutes to start the period, which is the last thing Vegas needed.
Kyle Connor scored his third of the playoffs on the ensuing man advantage, cutting the Knights’ lead in half and waking the beast that is the Winnipeg crowd at Bell MTS Place.
Kyle Connor cuts the Vegas lead in half. Not a goal Fleury will be happy with. pic.twitter.com/P4jidDXrmW— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 15, 2018
It’s certainly one Fleury would like to get back, but it would take less than two minutes for the Knights to respond.
In typical Golden Knights fashion, Vegas stormed right back 88 seconds later as Marchessault scored his second of the game to re-establish the two-goal lead.
GOAL! Marchessault scores his second of the night! pic.twitter.com/bjxW5J50vH— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 15, 2018
It was another great play by Smith, who picked up his second primary assist of the night. But the play wouldn’t have happened without William Karlsson’s dandy of a pass.
Nifty feed from William Karlsson to spring Marchessault and Smith. pic.twitter.com/1Q8AkVBnzh— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 15, 2018
The 88-second span between goals was fitting considering how well No. 88 played for the Knights all night.
In fact, Schmidt had one of his best games of the season.
Nate Schmidt ain't playin' around tonight. pic.twitter.com/gW28JHeBpg— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 15, 2018
Schmidt with another great defensive play. He's been unreal tonight. pic.twitter.com/ItFZOaSKDN— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 15, 2018
He stuck to Jets center Mark Scheifele like glue, frustrating him all night and breaking up quality scoring chances like this:
It was yet another hard-fought team win for the Knights, but Schmidt’s effectiveness was evident all night.
Once Marchessault gave the Knights a 3-1 lead at 8:45 of the third, Vegas didn’t look back.
Interestingly, as this chart from Natural Stat Trick illustrates, the Jets drove play for most of the game.
However, Vegas took advantage of opportunities and stretches of momentum to pick up a huge 3-1 win in a critical Game 2 tilt on the road.
The win is especially impressive considering the Knights were without forward David Perron, who played very well Saturday in Winnipeg but was unable to suit up for Game 2. The Knights were not necessarily in a must-win situation, but fighting back from a 2-0 series deficit against a team as deep and talented as the Winnipeg Jets would have been a daunting task.
Instead, the Knights did what they had to do by winning one of two on the road. Vegas has turned this into a best-of-five series, and three of those five games will be on home ice.
The series shifts to Vegas for Game 3 on Wednesday, where the Knights will have a chance to take a 2-1 lead in the series.