The Vegas Golden Knights looked like the No. 1 seed in a dominant 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series Tuesday night in Edmonton.
Reilly Smith recorded three points, including two goals in the third period to seal the game and an assist on Shea Theodore’s game-opening goal. Jonathan Marchessault assisted on both of Smith’s tallies, and Robin Lehner made 19 saves on 20 shots for a .950 save percentage.
The Golden Knights controlled play in the first period but were held scoreless on nine shots. Neither team got a power play through the first 20 minutes, but it sure felt like Vegas was on the man advantage throughout, as the Blackhawks didn’t get a shot on goal for more than 10 minutes.
In fact, the Knights had nine shots and 19 shot attempts but only one high-danger chance through the first 20 minutes. Still, no possession metric was lower than 60 percent, and the Knights added four takeaways.
The Knights needed a better all-around effort if they were going to score a goal against Corey Crawford, and they were up to the task in the second period.
The Knights took a 2-0 lead and outscored Chicago 2-1 in the second period.
Theodore started the scoring, taking advantage of a double screen on Crawford by Paul Stastny and rookie Blackhawk Adam Boqvist, as his clean snipe found twine:
Crawford screened by Boqvist and Stastny, and Theodore goes top right.— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) August 12, 2020
Third goal of the playoffs for Theodore, assists to Smith and Martinez.#VegasBorn pic.twitter.com/lTuAQt1TdH
The Golden Knights would follow it up with another goal a little over two minutes later, as William Carrier stuffed home a rebound chance in the crease:
Blackhawks challenged for offsides, goal is good. Hustle and forecheck from the fourth line pays off. Second goal of the postseason for Carrier.#VegasBorn up 2-0 and will head to the power play. pic.twitter.com/QfvNEeLGYM— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) August 12, 2020
Nicolas Roy and Ryan Reaves made the play possible, as Reaves got the puck to the net so that Carrier could get a stick on it and get it into the net.
The Blackhawks challenged the goal for offside but were unsuccessful, which resulted in a power play for Vegas. However, it was Chicago that took advantage as David Kampf scored a shorthanded goal, which turned out to be the team’s lone goal of the night.
Brandon Saad lifts Theodore's stick, forces the turnover and Kampf finishes the job as the trailer.— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) August 12, 2020
But the Golden Knights will get another crack at the power play. Dach trips Smith.#VegasBorn pic.twitter.com/Ynps9f39Ua
Brandon Saad was a fresh penalty killer on the ice going up against Theodore, who had been out there for a while. Theodore got caught on the wrong end of a 2-on-1 and was unable to recover. Lehner playing surprisingly deep in his net didn’t help, and Marchessault was late getting back.
It was a rough sequence for Theodore, but he bounced back and allowed just four shots and one high-danger chance against in 17:31 of 5-on-5 play.
In the second period, the Knights recorded six shots to four at 5-on-5 and held a 2-1 edge in high-danger chances. Across all strengths, Vegas outshot the Blackhawks 12-9 and had 1.24 expected goals in the middle frame, allowing 0.84.
But the other main story of the second period was Lehner’s repeated loss of his skate blade:
Twice in the period Lehner's left blade gets knocked off via post.#VegasBorn pic.twitter.com/Ka2RAciSfg— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) August 12, 2020
Either this was Marc-Andre Fleury’s most high-profile prank yet or Lehner was just having insanely bad luck. Still, he made multiple saves without the blade before he could get it replaced, even on the penalty kill.
Fortunately, he didn’t lose his blade in the third period, though he didn’t exactly need it. The Golden Knights only allowed six shots in the final frame as they continued to drive play. Smith scored twice in the third, beginning with this goal:
Off the turnover by Toews in the neutral zone, that's one Crawford certainly wants back.— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) August 12, 2020
Huge insurance policy for #VegasBorn on Smith's first goal of the playoffs. pic.twitter.com/yatZDFhDm9
It was an ugly goal for Crawford to give up, but Smith put enough mustard on it to get it in. He followed it up just under five minutes later with his second of the game off another great play by Marchessault as he streaked through the neutral zone:
Stastny line has been the best line tonight by a country mile.— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) August 12, 2020
3-point night for Smith, set up by the gorgeous feed from Marchessault.#VegasBorn pic.twitter.com/81YGi3B95o
The Knights’ second line of Marchessault, Smith and Stastny was the best line on the ice for either team; the trio played 10:07 at 5-on-5 and had a 66.67 percent Corsi and 62.5 percent shot share, as well as three goals for and zero allowed (though none of the Vegas lines gave up a goal at even strength).
Smith’s second goal made it 4-1, and that’s where the scoring would end. The Blackhawks didn’t pull Crawford, likely because they had been struggling to possess the puck long enough to get anything going anyway.
Ultimately, Vegas outshot Chicago 33-20 and had 10 high-danger chances to nine. The Knights’ numbers were even more impressive at 5-on-5, with a shot attempt lead of 47-35 and a shot share of 65.85 percent.
The only way the Golden Knights could have done any better in this game is if the power play hadn’t allowed that goal, although six shots and three high-danger chances in 3:37 is not a bad result.
If every game ends up looking like this one, it will be a short series.
The Golden Knights take on the Blackhawks in Game 2 on Thursday at 2:30 p.m.