The win marks the first time Vancouver has defeated Vegas in regulation.
After getting shut out in Game 1, it was all Vancouver early on, and the Canucks took a 2-0 lead midway through the first. For the second game in a row, the Knights had a dominant second-period effort, though the results were not nearly as rewarding this time. Alex Tuch helped the Knights pull within one, but the Canucks scored a back-breaking goal in the final 90 seconds of the frame to reestablish their two-goal lead. A quick goal in the third period ultimately put this one out of reach for Vegas despite a late push.
Tyler Toffoli returned to the Canucks lineup after missing the last 10 games, and he made his presence felt early. As in, immediately.
Toffoli found the puck on his stick in front of a wide-open net thanks to a stellar play by Elias Pettersson, and he cashed in, giving Vancouver a 1-0 lead just 1:29 into the game.
It was Toffoli’s first of the postseason and the Canucks’ first of the series. Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, who were both held without a shot in Game 1, got the assists on the play.
Later in the frame, the Knights did the one thing they could not afford to do: take a penalty.
The Canucks capitalized right away as Bo Horvat scored just seven seconds into the man advantage.
Toffoli set up Horvat for his second point of the game as the Canucks grabbed a 2-0 lead.
The Knights were held to just six shots in the first, but that was something they would address in the second.
In fact, the Knights were truly dominant in the middle frame. Not only did they hold Vancouver to four shots in the first 14 minutes of the period, but they outshot the Canucks 22-7.
The change in momentum helped the Knights get on the board, as Tuch scored for the third straight game to make it a 2-1 contest.
Once again, it was a flip play that led to a Tuch goal. This time, Nicolas Roy corralled the puck and fed it to Tuch, who beat Jacob Markstrom at 6:34 of the second.
The Knights proceeded to dominate the frame, but Markstrom stood tall, both literally (he’s 6-foot-6) and figuratively.
So despite Vegas’ best efforts, they had nothing more to show for it. Not only that, but it was Vancouver that got the next goal when Pettersson lit the lamp in the final 90 seconds of the frame.
Pettersson, who found himself all alone in front of Robin Lehner, made a gorgeous move off a great feed from Alexander Edler to stun the Knights at the end of the period. Not insignificantly, Toffoli picked up his third point of the night on the play, as did Pettersson.
But the Knights held a significant 50-11 edge in Corsi in the second period, so despite the late goal, all signs pointed towards Vegas getting off to a strong start in the third period.
That did not happen.
Instead, Horvat scored his second of the game and eighth of the playoffs just 18 seconds into the third.
Once again, the Canucks got behind the Vegas defensemen, leaving Lehner out to dry.
The goal made it 4-1 and gave Vancouver its biggest lead of the series.
With just under three minutes left in the third, the Knights got a power play and pulled Lehner to make it a 6-on-4. Max Pacioretty scored on a one-timer thanks to Reilly Smith’s screen to make it 4-2 at 18:34.
The Knights pulled Lehner once again, but J.T. Miller intercepted the puck, and Tanner Pearson scored on the empty net, making it 5-2 and sealing the win for Vancouver.
It was a humbling loss for a Vegas team that was dripping with confidence in Game 1. But to their credit, the Canucks came out and played to their strength: speed. They didn’t let Vegas make physicality a factor, as it was in Game 1, and Vancouver’s speed gave this game a very different feel early on.
Toffoli’s presence in the lineup was a major boost for Vancouver, but all of the Canucks’ star players came through with a compelling effort, and that’s why this series is even.
Markstrom, who was pulled in Game 1, was huge for Vancouver. He finished the game with 38 saves on 40 shots for a .950 save percentage, but he was particularly clutch in the second.
After all, the Knights held a 50-11 overall edge in Corsi in the middle frame. At 5-on-5, Vegas maintained an 81.63 percent Corsi, 76.19 percent shot share, 63.64 percent scoring chance share and a 75 percent high-danger Corsi share with a 6-2 edge (8-2 at all strengths).
Markstrom got plenty of help from his teammates throughout the game, however, as the Canucks set a franchise record with 40 blocked shots.
But the Pettersson goal at the end of the second was a blown play by Vegas at a very inopportune moment in the game, and it happened once again at the start of the third. The Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb pairing looked lost once again, much like they did in the Chicago series. They were on the ice for two of Vancouver’s three goals at 5-on-5.
The second line also struggled. Smith, Jonathan Marchessault and Paul Stastny finished with Corsi For percentages in the 40’s and expected goal rates of 26.16 percent, 22.77 percent and 24.4 percent, respectively.
The Knights did not play Golden Knights hockey for 60 minutes, and for some reason, Vegas struggled at the beginning and end of periods. Four out of five of Vancouver’s goals came in the first or final 90 seconds of the period; the only exception was the first Horvat goal, which came on the power play.
The Knights also were not nearly disciplined enough, though they were fortunate that Vancouver only scored once on five opportunities.
Both seem to be issues related to a lack of focus, which is uncharacteristic of this Knights team.
But while the Knights dominated in Corsi, finishing the night with a 93-56 edge, the high-danger Corsi was dead even at 14-14. That was the key factor in this game.
Vancouver didn’t get many chances, but they took advantage when they did. Vegas had a number of poor reads, and the Canucks made them pay.
Lehner finished the game with 22 saves on 26 shots for an .846 save percentage, though he had no chance on several of the goals. He didn’t make a game-changing save, but this loss is not on him. Even so, it will be interesting to see who coach Pete DeBoer turns to for Game 3, which is Thursday night.
No matter what, the Knights need a much better effort from everyone up and down the lineup.