Vegas evened up its Western Conference Finals battle against Winnipeg with a 3-1 win Monday in Game 2. With the series now tied at 1-1, the Knights will have their first postseason crack at the Jets on home ice as the series shifts to Vegas for the next two games.
The Golden Knights took care of business in Winnipeg by winning one of two games on the road and re-gaining home-ice advantage. It is now a best-of-five series with three home games for the Knights, but that doesn’t mean the games will be any easier.
Golden Knights fans now have a chance to make their voices heard, though, and the whiteout will be on hold for a while as black and gold take center stage at T-Mobile Arena.
Here’s what to watch for in Game 3.
Ready. Set. Play.
The team that has scored first has gone on to win both games of this series. But perhaps more importantly, the winning team has played well enough early in the game to be able to secure a multi-goal lead after 20 minutes. Even a perfectly-played period may not yield tangible results, but if the first two games taught us anything, it’s that the Knights need to set the tone early and play “Golden Knights” hockey in the opening frame.
There’s no denying the Jets are talented. They have a potent offense, a very skilled defense corps and a Vezina finalist in the crease. Whenever Bryan Little is on the third line and Mathieu Perreault is on the fourth, you know a team is stacked. That being said, Vegas is no slouch. Jonathan Marchessault said it best after Game 2: “I think we showed the world we earned the right to be here.”
Vegas’ compelling performance in Game 2 should give the Knights some added confidence after a disappointing start to the third round, but the work is just getting started. That’s why coming out strong at the beginning of tonight’s contest is so important.
Discipline is the watchword
The Jets proved in Game 1 that putting them on the power play is the wrong way to go. Winnipeg went 2-for-4 that night and followed that up with a 1-for-3 effort in Game 2, giving them a power-play conversation rate of nearly 43 percent through two games. That may not be sustainable for the Jets, but it certainly is not sustainable for the Knights if they hope to remain in this series.
Though the Knights came out on top in Game 2, the game was well within reach for the Jets all night. Winnipeg had its chances throughout the game and eventually capitalized on Vegas’ lack of discipline. Brayden McNabb and Luca Sbisa both took tripping penalties in the span of five minutes and 42 seconds, though the first penalty was committed with just three seconds left in the middle frame. So Winnipeg started the third on essentially a full power play, and less than four minutes later went right back on the man advantage. That is when Winnipeg scored its lone goal of the night. To be fair, it was an extremely soft goal for Marc-Andre Fleury to give up, but Vegas cannot afford to play with fire when it comes to Winnipeg’s power play.
Home-ice, ice, baby
This is the first playoff series in which the Knights did not start out with home-ice advantage. After a rough start to the series, Vegas was able to tie the series and pick up a key road win in Game 2, thus re-claiming home-ice advantage. Now that the series is back in Vegas, the Knights need to take advantage of the perks of being on home ice.
For one thing, the crowd can play a key role in momentum. Players such as Deryk Engelland have already suggested that they are anxious to get back in front of their fans and feed off the energy from the crowd. The whiteout in Winnipeg was, at times, overwhelming, but now it’s the Knights’ turn to have some well-earned support from the stands.
For another thing, Vegas will have the last change, which means Gerard Gallant will have more control over on-ice matchups. Based on the way Game 2 unraveled, one would assume that Gallant will take full advantage of last change to make sure that Nate Schmidt is on the ice whenever Mark Scheifele is out there. Schmidt played one of his best games of the season (possibly of his career) the other night in Winnipeg and will look to carry over that defensive stability to tonight’s contest. This will be especially important given the natural ability Scheifele possesses; after all, there’s a reason he has more goals than anyone else in the playoffs.
At this point, it’s safe to say that the Knights need Fleury to be at his best in order to have a chance in this series. Fleury has been phenomenal this postseason, posting league bests in save percentage (.945) and goals-against average (1.68) among goalies who have played in at least five games. He had a bounce-back performance in Game 2 after surrendering four goals on 26 shots in Game 1, though he did let in this very soft goal.
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
However, he also made plenty of sound saves, stopping 30 of 31 shots for a .968 save percentage, his best this postseason aside from his four shutouts.
When Flower is on his game, the Knights have an extra jump in their step. He’ll have to be great to weather the storm the Jets will stir up, but he has risen to the occasion many times before and has a chance to do so once again tonight on home ice, where he is 4-1 so far this postseason.
Tweaks and streaks
David Perron was a full participant in today’s morning skate and declared himself a game-time decision for tonight’s game. However, he was one of the last four skaters on the ice, which puts his return in question. That means Tomas Tatar, Tomas Nosek, Ryan Carpenter and Ryan Reaves could all remain in the lineup. If Perron does return, he should slot back in on the second line with Erik Haula and James Neal, allowing Alex Tuch to move down to the third line to skate with Cody Eakin and Carpenter/Tatar.
Marchessault and Reilly Smith will look to extend their four-game point streaks; Marchessault has scored four goals and seven points in that span, with Smith registering five assists. William Karlsson has a goal and two assists on his three-game point streak, and defenseman Shea Theodore has picked up an assist in back-to-back games.
Come chat with us during the game in tonight’s Game 3 Thread!
How to Watch
Time: 6 p.m. PT
TV: NBC Sports Network, NBC Sports app
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM