The Knights now lead the best-of-seven series 1-0.
If there had been any distractions leading up to the game, it didn’t show in Vegas’ play, which was dominant across the board.
Robin Lehner recorded 26 saves for his first career postseason shutout. He wasn’t overly tested, but he was steady in the crease and looked calm, cool and collected despite the controversy surrounding the tweet sent by Marc-Andre Fleury’s agent.
But nothing could be detected on the ice.
It was a three-goal second period that propelled the Knights to victory in the opening tilt of the second-round series. The first of those three goals came on the power play, which was significant considering Vegas went 1-for-10 in the first round.
The Knights hadn’t played since Tuesday, but there were zero signs of rust, even against the young and speedy Canucks.
The Canucks, meanwhile, were coming off an emotional and hard-fought series against the defending champions, so it’s unclear how much of a role the lack of rest played in their overall effort in Game 1.
Vancouver bench boss Travis Green mixed things up at the start of the game, putting captain Bo Horvat between J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser instead of slotting Elias Pettersson in his usual top-line role. He eventually went back to the regular lines at the start of the third period, but by that point the Canucks were trailing by four goals and were pretty much out of the game.
Though the Canucks are a top-heavy team with a lot of talent, Vancouver’s best line by far was its third, as Antoine Roussel, Adam Gaudette and Brandon Sutter managed a Corsi For percentage of 83.33, an expected goals rate of 78.22 percent and a 66.67 percent scoring chance share.
Obviously, that was in a very limited sample, but keep an eye on the matchup game as well as how Green deploys his forwards, particularly since the Knights have the benefit of last change once again tonight.
No matter what, Vancouver will look to respond and even things up.
Here are three keys to the game for the Knights as they look to prevent that and instead take a 2-0 series lead.
Keep up the pressure
The Canucks are a young and fast group. They used that speed well in their first-round matchup against St. Louis, a team that tends to slow down the game. However, as Vancouver discovered in Game 1, Vegas is anything but a slow hockey club.
As such, the Knights need to continue to push the pace. Taking away space and especially time seemed to overwhelm the Canucks, who had trouble generating high-danger chances and establishing a cycle in Vegas’ end.
The Knights’ relentless forecheck was too much for the Canucks to overcome.
The Canucks were able to manage St. Louis’ heavy and slow-tempo style, especially since the Blues rarely had all lines firing on all cylinders; the Knights, however, play both a big game and a fast game. When everyone in the lineup buys in, the combination is enough to give even the best teams fits, and it’s something the Knights need to maintain if they hope to excel in this matchup.
Do it for 60 minutes
Even in a completely one-sided contest, the Knights finished Game 1 with a 52.1 percent Corsi and a 50.91 scoring chance share at 5-on-5. Vegas’ expected goals rate (67.31 percent) and 64.71 percent high-danger Corsi share were more indicative of the game that unfolded on the ice, but the Knights certainly didn’t come away with a 90 percent Corsi.
So assuming the Knights are able to stick to their game, it’s imperative that they dictate the pace of this game from the first puck drop to the final horn.
The Canucks will be more rested, so it will be especially important for the Knights to keep their foot on the pedal. The Knights can’t take a period off and can’t go through lapses where they’re scrambling in their own end and leaving Lehner out to dry.
The Knights were able to hold Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Boeser, three of Vancouver’s top players, to zero shots the other night. Pettersson and Hughes, in particular, are dynamic game-changing studs for the Canucks, so a key focus for the Knights will be to continue to neutralize them, or at least limit their explosiveness.
Vegas has shown it can control a hockey game; it’s something the Knights have done all season, and it was evident in Game 1. But the Canucks will be better prepared when these teams go head to head in Game 2. As such, the Knights need to deliver a methodical and complete team-wide effort for 60 minutes.
Stay out of the box
It might not matter how well the Knights play if they don’t exhibit the same level of discipline they demonstrated in Game 1.
The Canucks have one of the best power plays in the playoffs, and it’s something they rely on heavily for offensive production.
In fact, in round one, Vancouver converted on over 30 percent of its power-play opportunities, scoring seven goals, which was tied for first in the league. The Canucks averaged 6:02 of power-play time per game, the highest rate among Western Conference clubs.
The Knights gave them just one opportunity on the man advantage in Game 1, and that’s a result Vegas will need to replicate tonight and moving forward.
Roussel will do his best to test Vegas’ patience, though his attempts were unsuccessful in Game 1. In fact, Ryan Reaves was heard clucking at Roussel from the bench. Clearly, Reaves wasn’t phased, and there’s no reason to believe the Knights will be tonight.
That being said, the Knights must play disciplined hockey and cannot afford to unravel, regardless of what’s going on in the game.
Recent results work to the Knights’ advantage, as Vegas took 2.34 penalties per 60 in the first round, which was the third-lowest rate behind only Chicago and Columbus.
If the Knights stray from that tendency, Vancouver is more than capable of making them pay for it.
Max Pacioretty — William Karlsson — Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault — Paul Stastny — Reilly Smith
Nick Cousins — Nicolas Roy — Alex Tuch
William Carrier — Chandler Stephenson — Reaves
Brayden McNabb — Nate Schmidt
Alec Martinez — Shea Theodore
Nick Holden — Zach Whitecloud
Miller — Pettersson — Boeser
Tanner Pearson — Horvat — Loui Eriksson
Roussel — Gaudette — Sutter
Jake Virtanen — Jay Beagle — Tyler Motte
Alexander Edler — Troy Stecher
Christopher Tanev — Hughes
Oscar Fantenberg — Jordie Benn
How to watch
Time: 6:45 p.m.
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM