The Vegas Golden Knights hosted the Colorado Avalanche Monday night at T-Mobile Arena in the team’s final home game of the regular season. It was the biggest game of the season for both teams as the winner of the game would most likely go on to win the Presidents’ Trophy and of course the West Division.
Leading up to the game, it was announced that the team would only dress 10 forwards and 5 defensemen, as Ryan Reaves, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Nosek, Alec Martinez and Peyton Krebs were all unable to play. Krebs fractured his jaw after taking a puck to the face in Saturday’s game and is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery, according to general manager Kelly McKrimmon.
Interestingly, Vegas decided to continue with the regular goalie rotation, which meant Robin Lehner backstopped the 15-man lineup in a game with major playoff implications.
Despite being shorthanded, the Golden Knights played a very solid game and were the better team for the majority of the night. However, they ran out of gas in the latter half of the third period and were unable to recover after surrendering the deflating game-winning goal to Colorado late in the third.
The Avalanche got off to a hot start and generated a ton of chances, but Lehner stood tall early on.
Alex Pietrangelo opened the scoring 8:11 into the game when he rifled a juicy rebound over Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer.
It was one of Pietrangelo’s best games of the season, which was especially important given the absence of Martinez.
Vegas began to buzz and took control of play at this point.
With just over six minutes left in the first, there were offsetting minor penalties for roughing that were immediately followed by another roughing call on Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves; this resulted in a lengthy 4-on-3 power play for the Golden Knights. The Knights were unable to capitalize despite a very well-executed man advantage.
The game continued to be chippy, and the Avalanche went to the power play as Alex Tuch was whistled for a cross-check at 15:27. However, the Vegas penalty kill was able to take care of it with little issue.
Lehner had to make a great save on Andre Burakovsky before the horn sounded, but the Golden Knights were able to get to the locker room up by one goal.
The Knights’ strong play continued into the second, and the Avalanche were unable to get much going. Their timing was off, which generated multiple offside calls, and the Knights held a healthy lead in shots.
That is, until Burakovsky tied it up. He made a nice move as he entered the offensive zone and wristed one past Lehner glove-side to tie the game at 1-1.
The Knights played a great second period on both sides of the ice and only allowed four shots in the period (while generating 15), but they were unable to recapture the lead.
That was due to the stellar play of Grubauer.
The Avalanche got their second power play of the game just over three minutes into the third period, but the Golden Knights did not allow a shot while shorthanded and were outstanding on the night.
Roughly four minutes later, Pietrangelo was tripped up, which sent the Golden Knights to their third power play of the game. Despite having a very lively power play, they were once again unable to convert.
The Avalanche would make them pay for that.
Though Vegas was seemingly in complete control, the Avalanche turned the tables and took a sudden 2-1 lead at 11:33 of the period. J.T. Compher deflected an innocent shot from Alex Newhook, and the puck somehow slipped under Lehner.
It was a deflating goal for a Knights team that was tired after playing so well through two and a half periods.
Lehner was pulled for the extra attacker, but it was not enough to tie the game. Following the go-ahead goal, Colorado shut things down completely, and though Vegas had a few good looks late in the third, the Avalanche got in shooting lanes, blocked shots, deflected pucks and kept the Knights from getting a whistle and a timeout, giving them a 2-1 win in a critical game.
For the Knights, it was an unfortunate result in an opportune situation.
The loss not only prevents Vegas from clinching the West Division and Presidents’ Trophy, but it allows Colorado to close the gap to two points in the standings and take control of their own destiny, as Colorado owns the tiebreaker.
Vegas played a very strong game, but the difference in the end was goaltending.
Grubauer finished the game with 36 saves on 37 shots for a .973 save percentage. Lehner was good but not good enough, and he wasn’t able to steal the win for a tired team that worked relentlessly for most of the night.
The Golden Knights look to right the ship in their final game of the regular season Wednesday night in San Jose.