In a series riddled with superstars like Alex Ovechkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Nicklas Backstrom, William Karlsson and more, you would think the impact of either team’s fourth line would be minimal.
However, that narrative was far from true on Monday night when Ryan Reaves, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Tomas Nosek stole the show at T-Mobile Arena. The Vegas Golden Knights’ relentless fourth line in fact proved to be the difference in Game 1 and the trio of gritty forwards combined to score three third period goals, propelling the Knights to a 6-4 victory over the Washington Capitals.
Anytime you get a goal from your fourth line in the playoffs you're thrilled. But to get three third period goals from your fourth line the in the Stanley Cup Finals is unprecedented. This explosion of goals was out of nowhere, too. But, to be fair, the fourth line absolutely dominated Game 1.
Possession wise, Reaves (69.23 CF%), Bellemare (76 CF%) and Nosek (74.19 CF%) were a wrecking ball in 5v5 play. However, driving possession is one thing, what you do with the puck is what really counts and this line not only potted three goals, but they also generated a whopping nine scoring chances. When you consider that neither of these three players played more than 12:22, their performances become even more impressive.
Just to really hammer home how well Vegas’ fourth line played, let’s compare them to Washington’s fourth line. If you’re a Caps fan, look away, because Chandler Stephenson, Jay Beagle and Devante Smith-Pelly had a Game 1 to forget. Collectively, the trio posted a 18.75 CF% during 5v5 play and failed to register a single scoring chance. To top it all off, they were on the ice for two goals against at 5-on-5.
Looking back at the fourth line’s goals, you could argue one of their three goals was extremely fortunate since Reaves got away with a blatant cross-check on John Carlson in front of the net before he found twine. But, overall, their goals were a by-product of them flat-out outworking their opponent.
I mean, is anyone really surprised at how hard this fourth line skates? Let’s keep in mind, these three guys have pushed Tomas Tatar out of the lineup and Tatar was supposed to be Vegas’ big Trade Deadline acquisition to help them for the playoffs.
Instead, it’s been Reaves, who was also acquired at the Trade Deadline, who has brought the scoring touch to Vegas. Even when he’s not scoring, though, he’s been making great plays like lifting Michal Kempny’s stick on Nosek’s goal. Although, Reaves admitted after the game to Hockey Night in Canada’s Scott Oake that he was actually trying to tip that puck and not lift Kempny’s stick.
“To be honest, I was trying to tip that,” said a smiling Reaves. “I don’t know what you saw. I was trying to tip it. He lifted my stick. But no, I knew Nosek was back there. I knew he was going to get it.”
Needless to say, things are going well for Reaves, who has scored goals in back-to-back games for the first time since April 6-8, 2017 when he was a member of the St. Louis Blues.
Bellemare may not have wound up with a goal, but he added a secondary assist on Nosek’s first tally and was on the ice for 10 scoring chances for and just one against, his 90.9 SCF% leading players on either team.
Collectively, the fourth line has been a weapon of sorts for Gerard Gallant this season, but their secret is pretty simple — work like hell. Ironically enough, that seems to be the Golden Knights’ team secret, too.
Just work like hell and good things will happen out there.