Tonight’s game presents an opportunity no one thought the Knights could even dream about when this team was drafted last summer. Now, nearly a year later, Vegas is one of four teams remaining in the playoffs and is up 2-1 in the Western Conference Finals. With a win tonight, Vegas would take a commanding 3-1 series lead, which would bring them within one win of the first Stanley Cup appearance in franchise history.
However, Winnipeg will have something to say about that as the Jets look to even up the series before returning home for Game 5. The Jets are in the third round of the playoffs for a reason, and they are not going to roll over. Their performance in the third period of Game 3 proved beyond doubt that the Jets are capable of dominating the Knights, and you can expect them to come out flying tonight.
Here’s what to watch for in tonight’s crucial Game 4 contest.
Help a Flower out
Marc-Andre Fleury was simply sensational in Game 3, stopping 33 of 35 shots for a .943 save percentage. The Jets have been excellent all year, and Winnipeg proved just how dangerous they can be offensively by completely taking over the game in the third period the other night. Unfortunately for the Jets, Fleury was smiling, tickling ears, thanking Mr. Post and diving all over the ice, making incredible save after incredible save. He robbed Mark Scheifele with perhaps his best save of the year, and he single-handedly kept Vegas in a game the Knights seemed to stop playing at the start of the third. If not for Fleury, the Knights very well could be looking to tie this series at 2-2 tonight. Instead, the Knights have a glorious chance to take a huge 3-1 lead in the series. Fleury has been phenomenal all postseason, but he can’t be expected to pull off that type of performance in every game. Everyone throughout the Knights lineup needs to do more in the defensive zone to get pucks out and keep Winnipeg at bay. The Jets led the Knights 16-7 in high-danger chances in the game and 8-0 in the third period.
Fleury has been incredible, but he can’t continue to do it alone.
Slow down Scheifele
Scheifele is having a postseason to remember. He set an NHL record the other night for most road goals in a postseason with 11, and he leads all players with 14 goals in the playoffs. It was his goal just 18 seconds into the third period that sparked the Jets’ miraculous push, and he came uncomfortably close to scoring a hat trick later in the frame. Though the Jets have plenty of superstar talent in Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Dustin Byfuglien, etc., Scheifele has been the most dangerous in this series, and he poses the greatest threat away from home. Nate Schmidt did a masterful job shutting him down in Game 2 but was unable to keep him contained in Vegas. Slowing down a one-man wrecking crew is an effort the Knights need to do as a unit, and doing so will be critical to Vegas’ chances of success in Game 4.
Two hops this time
Vegas has relied almost exclusively on production by the first-line trio of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith. However, the second line came through in a big way in Game 3 as James Neal, Erik Haula and Alex Tuch all recorded big points for the Knights. That’s something that needs to continue moving forward. Neal was a man on a mission in the second period, possibly inspired by taking an elbow up high from Byfuglien. Either way, he had one of the more dominant periods he’s had all year in the middle frame, scoring a goal just 12 seconds after Scheifele tied the game at 1-1 and setting up Tuch on the game-winner less than three minutes later. While production from the bottom nine would be ideal, the fact that the second line scored its first goals of the series was huge. If the Knights have multiple lines going tonight, that will go a long way towards beating Connor Hellebuyck.
Zero to 60
The Knights could not have gotten off to a better start in Game 3 as Marchessault scored just 35 seconds into the game to give Vegas a very early 1-0 lead. The Knights were dominant in the first period despite being unable to beat Hellebuyck and extend the lead. However, the Jets essentially mirrored that performance in the third period by scoring 18 seconds into the frame and then proceeding to completely dominate for most of the period. It wasn’t until late in the third that the Knights were able to assert themselves and actively defend the lead rather than relying on Fleury’s ninja skills to keep the Jets from tying the game.
It’s unreasonable to assume the Knights can be dominant for the entire game. They are playing one of the best teams in the league, and Winnipeg is going to have relentless pushes. That being said, the Knights can’t fall into another complete breakdown the way they did the other night.
Regardless of how outstanding Fleury was, the fact that Vegas failed to record a shot for most of the third period is concerning and something that can’t happen again.
The Golden Knights have gone 1-for-7 on the power play so far this series, operating at a 14.3 percent success rate. That is not nearly good enough. As evidenced in last night’s Game 4 matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals, not scoring on the power play can easily be the difference between winning and losing. Vegas has just a 17 percent conversion rate on the man advantage throughout the postseason, which is last among active teams and tenth among the 16 teams that made the playoffs. If the Knights are fortunate enough to have power-play opportunities tonight, they need to capitalize.
How to Watch
Time: 5 p.m. PT
TV: NBC Sports Network, NBC Sports app
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM