The Vegas Golden Knights faced, for the first time in franchise history, a ‘must win’ game tonight as they took on the Washington Capitals in Game Four of the Stanley Cup Finals, down 2-1 in the series.
What followed was an unmitigated disaster of monumental proportions pushing the Golden Knights to the brink of elimination.
I’ll save some of you a bit of time and post a spoiler up top. Vegas lost. It was bad. They hit approximately 37 posts. Final score was 6-2. You’re welcome.
For those of you who will continue reading... strap in. It gets ugly.
You can’t tell the story of Game Four without starting at what really should have been the opening goal of the game.
James Neal’s nightmares are now just this on loop pic.twitter.com/nN1lymCfwm— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) June 5, 2018
The puck on the stick of one of Vegas’ most dangerous shooters, the defense out of position, the goalie nowhere to be found, and with the entire four-by-six to shoot at James Neal hit the far side post. Somehow.
Shortly after, following a Colin Miller tripping penalty, the Washington Capitals would officially open the scoring thanks to T.J. Oshie, with help from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom.
Things went from bad to worse for the Golden Knights later in the period when, just over six minutes later, on just the ninth shot of the game for the Capitals, Tom Wilson put one behind Marc-Andre Fleury to give Washington a 2-0 lead.
No. 27 for the Golden Knights, defenseman Shea Theodore, who has had a bit of a rough series already, looked especially bad on this play as he loses his assignment forcing Jonathan Marchessault to chase and leave his man who would be the eventual goal scorer. Yikes.
And then, as if it wasn’t all bad enough, the back breaker.
With just 20.5 seconds remaining in the period Devante Smith-Pelly found the tinniest of spaces to put a puck over the shoulder of Fleury to stretch the lead to three goals before the intermission.
And then came a lot of drinking. For me and the Knights On Ice crew, I mean. I can’t speak for anyone else.
The second period started much like the first. With a Golden Knights push culminating in a missed opportunity to put one passed Braden Holtby. Yeah, it was one of those nights, you get it.
Knights get a great opportunity to start the period. pic.twitter.com/lb5EUgtGyJ— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) June 5, 2018
Another Vegas penalty, this time on Neal for slashing, led to the fourth Washington goal.
John Carlson scores to make it 4-0. pic.twitter.com/VMulnthn9j— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) June 5, 2018
Now, it is fair to say Neal too was high-sticked (by Tom Wilson, in the face, and it drew blood— but I digress). That should have been called, but wasn’t. And yes, the penalty on Neal was fair. He wildly swung at a loose puck and slashed a Capital player. Be it frustration, perhaps desperation to get something on net, whichever it was the result was the same. And warranted.
What was not warranted was the ref watching Ryan Reaves during this play with Brooks Orpik. The ref seemed to make up his mind that Reaves was embellishing when the replay shows a stick does hit Reaves. His own stick, but a stick nonetheless.
Not to complain about the refs too much, they did miss multiple penalty calls on the Capitals, but they did get this call right on Neal.
Orpik catches Reaves with a stick up high. No call. pic.twitter.com/P0cRKMlUDu— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) June 5, 2018
It might not have changed the game and Vegas had their opportunities on the powerplay, but officiating has been questionable all post-season and that continued in this one.
In the third period the Golden Knights finally got on the scoresheet as Neal attempted to earn some level of redemption by beating Holtby from in close.
Then things got interesting. For a minute.
With just 7:34 left in the final frame a long shift, a turnover, and a ridiculous spinning pass conspired to created a high quality scoring chance for the Golden Knights and Reilly Smith answered the bell, bringing the deficit to just two goals!
Less than a minute later (I did warn you) the Capitals shut down any blossoming notions one might have had that Vegas was on the comeback trail. Once again the refs missed what could have been a penalty on the Capitals (this time an elbow to the face of Miller), which allowed the Capitals to add their fifth goal of the game, this one off the stick of Michal Kempny. And that was that.
T.J. Oshie dishes out a reverse hit on Colin Miller and Michal Kempny makes it 5-2. pic.twitter.com/9Ew1aLmY09— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) June 5, 2018
Again, not to complain about the reffing too much... but come on.
Also, this little piece of information about the play came out just after the game.
Broken nose? Wonderful.
Following that was... chaos. Two Vegas penalties back-to-back on the Golden Knights (Nate Schmidt for tripping, McNabb for cross checking), a set of offsetting penalties for Unspostmanlike conduct which saw Deryk Engelland sent him to the dressing room early, a lot of pushing and shoving thrown in, and all of that led to the Capitals sixth goal of the game. Brett Connolly this time.
I don’t want to harp too much on James Neal’s missed opportunity, missed opportunities and goal posts being the theme of the night for the Golden Knights, but this tweet sums up my feelings on the play accurately.
Scoring that goal changes the game. To that point Vegas had the lead in shots on goal, had spent much of the early going controlling play, and had already come close earlier in the game when Alex Tuch hit the post.
This was the Golden Knights best chance to get the momentum back in the series. To their credit, the Golden Knights played well in the first period. Especially early on as mentioned. They led in Corsi, scoring chances, and high danger chances through the first period.
The only thing they didn’t lead in was goals. Those are sort of important to the whole “winning a hockey game” thing, I’m told.
The missed opportunities continued in the second as Vegas failed to convert on two chances with the man advantage while Marchessault had a missed opportunity early in the second period, Brayden McNabb hit a post (Ryan Carpenter may have also hit the post on this play), and on and on it went.
The series is not over. There is still hope. For Vegas to get back in the series however they’ll have to tighten up the defense and find a way to reignite their offense which has produced just five goals in the last three games, all Washington wins.
Part of that is on 43-goal scorer William Karlsson. Karlsson, who failed to register a shot on goal in Game Three, seemed very passive in this one as well. Especially on the powerplay. He had two shots on goal but overall just never seemed like a threat to score for the Golden Knights.
Game Five goes Thursday at T-Mobile Arena in Vegas. Puck drop is scheduled for 5PM PT.