The Vegas Golden Knights entered Game 5 facing a great deal of adversity. Coming off their ugliest loss of the postseason, a 4-0 beatdown against the San Jose Sharks in the SAP Center Wednesday night, it almost felt like Vegas needed a win in Game 5. And, luckily, they delivered.
Vegas walked out of T-Mobile Arena with a 5-3 victory over San Jose Friday night, giving them the 3-2 lead on the series. The Knights dominated the first 40 minutes of play, which gave them enough of a cushion to withstand an eventual San Jose rally in the final third. Despite the semi-close score, though, this was commanding win for the Golden Knights, who now head to San Jose for Game 6.
Let’s go over some observations.
1. Tuch has a huge night
In Game 4, despite being shutout in San Jose, defenseman Shea Theodore was the youngster to step up and make the highlight-reel plays for Vegas. Friday night, however, Alex Tuch got the spotlight.
Tuch scored two goals and was on the ice for five high-danger scoring chances. Though he didn’t drive play quite as well as some of his teammates (-3.19% Relative Corsi at 5v5), Tuch was wreaking havoc all over the ice and regularly seemed to be involved in some of the Knights’ best opportunities.
The Syracuse native is quietly putting together a whale of a postseason. With four goals and seven points through nine playoff games, he ranks fourth on the team in scoring behind only the trio of Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith and William Karlsson. It’s encouraging to see this kind of play from a 21-year-old (he turns 22 in five days), especially in the postseason. And the more we see out of Tuch, the more he continues to look like a long-term cornerstone for Vegas.
2. Sbisa less than stellar in return to lineup
After an uninspiring performance in Game 4, Knights head coach Gerard Gallant sat defenseman Jon Merrill in the press box and replaced him with Luca Sbisa for Game 5. It would be Sbisa’s first appearance in the Knights’ lineup since Feb. 27. And it was evident. The 28-year-old blueliner finished the night with the lowest CF% on the team at 5v5 (33.33) and was directly responsible for San Jose’s third goal when he accidentally took out Marc-Andre Fleury in the midst of a netfront puck battle.
That’s not to say Sbisa’s night was a complete failure, though. In the game’s opening minute, he made a fantastic defensive play to negate a 2-on-1 opportunity.
It’s certainly possible Sbisa was dealing with some rust, as it was his first in-game action in over two months. For now, it appears he’ll remain in the lineup, but it’s hard to imagine him having a very long leash.
3. Knights shut down several San Jose stars, but others step up
Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Evander Kane are three of the Sharks’ top point producers, and Vegas managed to keep them in check in Game 5. The trio was held without a point and all three finished the night with a minus-two rating.
Picking up the slack, though, was Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, who have given Vegas fits all series. Couture finished the night with three assists (two of which being primary) and Hertl scored a goal and registered a helper of his own. Oddly enough, neither Couture or Hertl carried play very well compared to their teammates (-3.77, -3.61 Relative Corsi at 5v5, respectively). Hockey can be pretty weird sometimes! But that just goes to show the kind of depth the Sharks have at their disposal. Even when their top stars fail to produce, others step up and rise to the occasion, hence why they’re such a tough team to put away.
4. Third period collapse nearly costs Vegas
Things were all well and good for Vegas after 40 minutes. The Golden Knights were ahead 3-0 and even managed to extend their lead to four goals 8:36 into the final frame.
But then San Jose woke up.
Kevin Labanc finally got the Sharks on the board 9:35 into the third period with a top-shelf wrister from the low slot. Not long after, Hertl scored his sixth goal of the postseason to bring San Jose within two. And just four minutes after Hertl’s tally, Mikkel Boedker scored to bring the Sharks within one goal of tying it. For those keeping track, that’s three unanswered goals in just 6:11.
Luckily for the Knights, Marchessault managed to score an empty-net goal from the Vegas zone to virtually end San Jose’s rally. Had it not been for Marchessault’s tally, though, there’s no telling what could have happened in the game’s final minute, especially after San Jose dominated the majority of the third period (71.43 CF% at 5v5, nine high-danger chances).
5. Discipline still an issue
Part of the reason why Vegas was so bad in the third period was due to their lack of discipline. This has been an issue for the Golden Knights all series, which is odd when you consider that they were one of the least-penalized teams in the NHL this season. Even against the Kings in Round 1, which was a much more heated series than this one, Vegas only provided Los Angeles with 13 power play attempts through four games. Through five games against the Sharks, though, they’ve been shorthanded 25 times.
Friday night, Vegas provided San Jose four attempts on the man advantage. On paper, that’s not too bad. But when you consider that three of those four power play attempts came in the third period, then that makes quite a difference. Vegas lost its focus a bit in the final third, which allowed the Sharks to make things interesting with three straight goals.
With the Sharks now in desperation mode, careless penalties simply cannot happen when the Knights return to San Jose for Game 6 on Sunday.