The Vegas Golden Knights were the better team in Game 5. It’s a very simple story, just one that ended in a loss, as Thatcher Demko made 43 saves to secure the win for the Vancouver Canucks. That’s a story the Golden Knights have seen before, as Corey Crawford did the same thing for the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4 in the first round.
The Golden Knights responded in the last round by winning Game 5 and advancing. Now, they’ll look to do the same thing, even after a tight team effort should have ensured them the series-clinching victory in Game 5.
Vegas outshot Vancouver 34-13 at 5-on-5 and controlled the puck entirely in the first half of both the first and second periods. However, Vegas scored just one goal.
Instead, the Golden Knights continued an interesting trend: they’ve never won a game in the playoffs where they had 40 or more shots on net. That’s likely random (how often can a team completely dominate a game and lose?), but it could also reveal notable patterns and observations from that most recent loss.
Here are the keys to making sure this attempt at eliminating the Canucks is successful.
Traffic in front
Vancouver scored two goals in Game 5 by getting traffic in front of the net. Brock Boeser deflected a shot into the net while driving to the crease. Then, Elias Pettersson made the Golden Knights pay for leaving him alone out front, and his deflection goal proved to be the game-winner.
While the Golden Knights can’t let that happen, they also need to get more traffic themselves. It didn’t seem like they got much of that in Game 5, though they’ve had success on deflections and tips throughout the series.
With notable net-front presences like Alex Tuch, Paul Stastny and Ryan Reaves, the Golden Knights should be getting more tip opportunities. Rather, it seemed like Vegas was simply missing the net or just not getting pucks close to bodies in front (if those bodies were even there in the first place).
In addition to getting more deflections and tips out front, the Golden Knights need to be more aggressive. That’s a tough ask after such a dominant performance, but there are a few ways the Knights can more effectively take things into their own hands.
Even on the penalty kill.
Discipline is key. The Knights must be disciplined. However, if Vegas takes a penalty, there’s no time like the present for the power kill to come into play.
Vegas, the leading shorthanded goal-scoring team in the regular season, hasn’t managed a shorthanded goal so far this series. They’ve gotten just three shots and .27 expected goals in nearly 27 minutes after managing .3 expected goals in 23 minutes against Chicago.
But the Knights have forwards playing on the penalty kill who have the ability to score. William Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Mark Stone have all been excellent on the penalty kill all season. Now it’s about generating chances.
Vegas has to enforce its will more and not be as passive. It’s clear the Knights can push Vancouver around; now they just need to do so on the penalty kill.
Stop the Pettersson line
There’s one line for the Canucks that has seemed to inflict the most damage on the Golden Knights throughout this series. That’s the line of Tanner Pearson, Pettersson and Tyler Toffoli. Pettersson currently has five points in the series, and Toffoli has four points in just 63 minutes.
In Vegas’ two losses in this series, those two have played instrumental roles. Pettersson and Toffoli both registered one goal and two assists in the Golden Knights’ 5-2 loss in Game 2. In the Game 5 loss, Pettersson again made his presence felt and ultimately scored the game-winning goal.
While stopping players like J.T. Miller is also important (particularly since he has assisted on all five Canucks goals in the last two games), the Pettersson line has delivered results on a more consistent basis. Even without last change in Game 6, the Golden Knights will need to find a way to slow them down.
Max Pacioretty — Karlsson — Stone
Jonathan Marchessault — Stastny — Smith
Nick Cousins — Nicolas Roy — Tuch
William Carrier — Chandler Stephenson — Reaves
Brayden McNabb — Nate Schmidt
Alec Martinez — Shea Theodore
Nick Holden — Zach Whitecloud
Pearson — Pettersson — Toffoli
Miller — Bo Horvat — Brock Boeser
Antoine Roussel — Adam Gaudette — Brandon Sutter
Tyler Motte — Jay Beagle — Jake Virtanen
Alexander Edler — Troy Stecher
Christopher Tanev — Quinn Hughes
Oscar Fantenberg — Tyler Myers
How to watch
Time: 6:45 p.m.
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM