For the fourth time in franchise history, the Knights battled back to tie the series at 1-1 after losing Game 1; the Knights have never trailed 2-0 in a playoff series.
It was a must-win game for the Knights, who were shut out in Game 1 in a 1-0 overtime defeat.
Once again, Marc-Andre Fleury was the star of the show.
Without him, this game would have been over in the first 20 minutes, but Fleury stopped all 17 of Minnesota’s first-period shots to keep Vegas in the game early.
Though Minnesota jumped out to a 1-0 lead with the first regulation goal of the series just over 12 minutes into the second period, the Knights responded immediately. Vegas added another goal later in the second period and sealed the 3-1 win with a goal in the final minute of regulation.
But it took a while for Vegas to show signs of life.
In fact, the first period was one of the worst starts of the year for the Knights, aside from the fact that Fleury was extraordinary.
In Game 1, Vegas outshot Minnesota 19-5 in the first period; in Game 2, it was the Wild that held a substantial edge (17-10), though Minnesota had twice as many shots for much of the frame.
Not only did Vegas not score a much-needed goal to snap the shutout streak, but the Knights were beyond fortunate to not be trailing by five goals.
Fleury had an outstanding period, and he faced seemingly endless scoring opportunities of the grade-A variety.
29 doesn't get paid enough. pic.twitter.com/pLqx6ynTdP— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) May 19, 2021
Defensively, it was more of the same from Minnesota.
The Wild blocked shots, shut down passing lanes, lifted sticks and immediately swarmed the puck carrier whenever Vegas managed to have possession.
Matt Dumba was responsible for four of Minnesota’s six credited blocks in the first period (and eight of 26 on the night). He came up with a particularly key sliding block on a Mattias Janmark shot from the low shot, which was perhaps Vegas’ best opportunity of the first period.
Somehow, the Wild were swarming the crease offensively but still had two or three skaters back defensively. At one point, Chandler Stephenson collected a breakout pass, and it looked like he might create something with his speed; however, he was immediately surrounded by a triangle of Minnesota defenders.
Vegas couldn’t seem to catch a break.
Even when William Carrier had a chance in front and Talbot got pushed into the net, the puck still managed to not cross the goal line, even if it wouldn’t have counted anyway.
Instead, most of the action was at the other end of the ice for the surging Wild.
Minnesota was completely dominant, but Fleury single-handedly kept the Golden Knights in the game.
There was one series of saves in particular in the second half of the period that was especially impressive.
Minnesota’s third line, led by Kevin Fiala, gave Vegas fits in the opening frame (and all night), and that line had an extended shift in Vegas’ end. Fleury stopped three straight point-blank shots from in tight and proceeded to stop at least two other great opportunities before the Knights were able to ice the puck.
The Wild generated 1.88 expected goals in the first period; thanks to Fleury, they came away with zero.
But as well as Fleury played, eventually Minnesota was able to break through.
Despite being outnumbered along the wall, the Wild won a board battle and threw the puck to Dumba at the point; he fired it past a screened Fleury to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead at 12:07 of the second period.
Both Marcus Foligno and Nicolas Hague were in front of Fleury on the shot, which may have been deflected by Janmark’s stick as he went to challenge Dumba.
It was the first regulation goal of the series, and given how one-sided the game had been leading up to that, it felt like the air was sucked out of the building.
But things changed quickly thanks to Jonathan Marchessault.
Marchessault potted Vegas’ first goal of the series just 18 seconds after Dumba’s goal. Eighteen.
He changed the shot angle (something Vegas had failed to do much to that point) and sent an absolute laser over Talbot’s shoulder.
It was a 1-1 game just like that.
The goal seemed to jump-start Vegas’ offense and energy. After the goal, it was as if the Knights finally remembered how to play hockey. It eventually led to a power play drawn by Carrier, who took an elbow to the face from Ian Cole behind the Wild net.
It was Vegas’ first power play of the game and came at 15:04 of the second. While the man advantage didn’t convert, the Knights grabbed their first lead of the series just 15 seconds after its expiration.
Alex Pietrangelo took a harmless wrist shot, but Talbot couldn’t handle it cleanly. It bounced off his glove, and for the first time in a while, Vegas won a puck race.
Janmark beat several Wild skaters to the puck, which he retrieved from behind the net before backhanding to Alex Tuch, who had driven to the net. Tuch slammed the puck into the net to make it 2-1 with under three minutes left in the frame.
It was Vegas’ first lead of the series.
After a critical eight-minute stretch, the Golden Knights were back in the game.
Aside from the 2-1 lead, Vegas was able to sustain pressure in the offensive zone, complete passes, get shots on Talbot and return to looking like an NHL team.
The timing of Marchessault’s response after Dumba’s tally cannot be underestimated.
Play was somewhat back-and-forth in the third period as Minnesota did its best to even things up.
The Knights held the Wild to just eight shots in the third, several of which came on the same shift.
Once again, Minnesota’s third line had extended time in the offensive zone, and the trio of Fiala, Victor Rask and Nick Bonino forced Fleury to make arguably the biggest save of the game on a point-blank opportunity by Fiala, who finished the night with a game-high eight shots.
At another point, Fiala and Rask had a 2-on-1, but Fleury got a piece of Rask’s one-timer, which then hit the crossbar.
The Wild needed a goal and had some great looks but were unable to beat Fleury, and the Knights eventually helped slow down Minnesota’s offense. In fact, Vegas held Minnesota to just 18 shots in the final two periods after giving up 17 in the first.
The Knights had several scoring chances of their own in the third but couldn’t quite connect.
That is, until Tuch sealed the win when he scored on the power play with under a minute left in regulation.
Once again, Tuch went hard to the net and was rewarded with a feed from behind the net, this time from Stephenson.
It was an enormous win for the Golden Knights, who definitely played with more heart and confidence in the second half of the game.
The Knights were able to slow down the Wild’s second line, containing Kirill Kaprizov and mostly shutting down Ryan Hartman after a dominant performance in Game 1.
However, Minnesota’s depth reared its head, as the third line, led by Fiala, was a threat all night.
Fleury was the one who neutralized them in the end, but Minnesota threw a ton of chances his way.
In total, the Wild had 14 high-danger chances in the game; Fleury stopped all 14.
That’s something Vegas still needs to address, especially since much of Minnesota’s offensive gameplan revolves around going to the net for second-chance opportunities.
But Vegas made progress on the more potent issue on the offensive side of things.
Heading into Game 2, the Knights had scored just 10 goals (not including two empty-net goals) in their previous nine playoff games. Tonight, they added three. They snapped Talbot’s shutout streak and seemed to wake up once doing so.
The Knights’ lines were shuffled for most of the game after Tomas Nosek left in the first period after a collision with Foligno. He did not return to the game.
Ryan Reaves had a noticeably tough night and was on the ice for a team-high seven high-danger chances against.
But he and the Golden Knights remained disciplined for the most part. Pietrangelo took an unnecessary penalty in the third period by cross-checking Kaprizov, but Dumba got a matching minor for his response.
The Knights came up with an important penalty kill early in the game, which seemed to give them some momentum. The continued success of the penalty kill will be crucial moving forward.
That’s especially true since the best-of-seven (now best-of-five) series now shifts to Minnesota, where the Knights have yet to win in regulation in franchise history.
Fleury finished Game 2 with 34 saves on 35 shots for a .971 save percentage. He has stopped 63 of 65 (.970) in the series. Expect to see him for Game 3 on Thursday night.