The Vegas Golden Knights finally did it. Well, they finally did a lot of things, but they finally broke through the wall that is Thatcher Demko to close out the best-of-seven series against the Vancouver Canucks with a 3-0 victory Friday night.
The win means Vegas will advance to the Western Conference Final for the second time in three seasons. They will face the Dallas Stars.
It was Shea Theodore once again who was able to solve Demko, and his game-winning goal 13:52 into the third period will go down as a classic in Knights lore.
It seemed as though history was about to repeat itself. Near the end of the second period, Ryan Reaves was assessed a match penalty for a hit on Tyler Motte, leaving the Knights with an all-too-familiar five-minute penalty with which to contend. But the Knights finally killed off a five-minute penalty, helping Vegas rewrite the narrative.
Not only did they kill off the penalty, but they held Vancouver to a single shot on goal.
That was the turning point in the game, and it kept the game scoreless so that Vegas could finally win a Game 7.
A lot of things were finally accomplished, and demons were exercised.
Once again, Vegas was the much better team all night. The Knights allowed just six shots through 40 minutes (11 at 5-on-5), and they gave up just six high-danger chances throughout the entirety of the game.
Vegas’ most astounding marks (all at 5-on-5) include a 60-20 edge in shot attempts, a 14-3 lead in high-danger chances and 2.04 expected goals compared to .65 for Vancouver. The Golden Knights were suffocating in their quest, and it finally paid off.
Robin Lehner, at the other end of the rink, recorded his third shutout of the series to send the Canucks packing. That required just 15 saves and 1.31 expected goals saved. However, of the three high-danger saves he made, one of them was particularly clutch and came at a key moment in the game.
The penalty kill was other-worldly, though. Max Pacioretty and Reaves committed undisciplined offenses, but the penalty kill bailed them out and played a critical role in the win. In fact, the penalty kill managed three shots for and just two against throughout the contest. They allowed just 14 shot attempts in 11 minutes while shorthanded, half of which were blocked.
Reaves received a match penalty, a game misconduct and a resulting five-minute penalty for this hit on Motte:
Motte later returned to the game, but Reaves’ play was completely avoidable and unnecessary. The Knights were able to push through, but it could have cost them the season. Reaves could face additional discipline; match penalties carry an automatic suspension until a ruling is made.
If Reaves were to miss multiple games, that could hurt Vegas, especially in what is sure to be a physical series against Dallas. However, it helps that Tomas Nosek stepped into the lineup for Game 7 in place of Nick Cousins, who could be available for the start of the next round.
But as dominant as the Knights were, they couldn’t get anything going in the offensive zone. Reilly Smith and Nicolas Roy both hit the post, and Demko shut down the Knights whenever they came close. Every time a shooter beat Demko, the puck seemed to go either wide, high or hit iron. Passes went without connection. Rebounds went unanswered. Pucks stayed out of the net.
That is, until Theodore struck again. He’s the only player on the entire Golden Knights roster who had beaten Demko in the series up until that point, and he was the only player who was able to do so tonight. His goal back in Game 5 started the shutout streak for Demko; fittingly, his goal in Game 7 is what ended it.
There may not be a more important player (or, quite frankly, a better player) on the Golden Knights’ roster than Theodore right now.
The goal came just five seconds into a power play, Vegas’ third of the night.
Mark Stone and William Karlsson may not get credit for assists, but they did what they needed to do and got in front of Demko, setting up a screen. The Golden Knights had struggled to take away his vision or generate a shot he had no chance to save, but they finally made it happen, and it proved to be the series-clinching tally.
The Knights followed it up with two empty-net goals. Paul Stastny had several glorious opportunities earlier in the game, but this time he gave the puck to Alex Tuch, who made it 2-0 with just over two minutes left in the third.
But Stastny would get his own empty-net goal exactly two minutes later to make it 3-0 and officially put this one away.
Vegas busted multiple ghosts to win this game. The Knights did what they had to do from the start, and they played a full 60 minutes. It was a team effort and a team win.
One other note: Vegas recorded fewer than 40 shots in this game, so that winless streak lives on.
Vegas will take on a Dallas team in the Western Conference Final that also came close to blowing a 3-1 series lead before taking care of business in Game 7; they secured a 5-4 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche earlier on Friday.
Game 1 of that series is set for Sunday night at 5 p.m. PT.