There’s not much data to track the importance of a second period, but that’s what was facing the Golden Knights on Tuesday.
That was the case for a moment when Matt Dumba’s shot from the point at 12:07 of the second period beat a screened Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Minnesota Wild a 1-0 lead.
And then Jonathan Marchessault responded.
It took 95:45 for the Golden Knights to finally get on the board in this series, and it was Marchessault’s snipe from the right circle 18 seconds following Dumba’s goal to tie it and sway momentum toward the home team. Marchessault’s goal was the spark to the Golden Knights winning 3-1 against the Wild on Tuesday, tying their first-round series at a game apiece and springing some hope that didn’t seem obtainable 48 hours prior.
“I think in playoffs, little pointers that we need to be aware of is the first minute of each period, the last minute of each period, and the follow-up goals against and for,” Marchessault said. “I think it was a good shift for us. We were looking for our first of the series, and we got everyone going there.”
That quick strike from Marchessault was the chisel to the dam that was Cam Talbot through the first game and a half. It didn’t create the biggest fracture in the wall, but enough to where the Golden Knights put on enough pressure to create the giant rupture. Sometimes it takes a bigger body to apply the final push of force to bring it down.
Enter Alex Tuch. He pounced on a pass from Mattias Janmark behind the Minnesota net and giving the Golden Knights a 2-1 lead at 17:19, their first of the series.
“[Alex Pietrangelo] had a nice hard shot. Their goalie wasn’t able to handle it, and I saw Janny get on the puck first,” Tuch said. “He took a quick peek over his shoulder, and as soon as he did that, I just tried to get my stick in position and put it right on my stick. It was a phenomenal play, and I really had half a net to shoot at. As long as I didn’t put it back short side, it was going in.”
The Wild have made it a mission through two games to neutralize Mark Stone. Without Max Pacioretty on his left, Stone is essentially on an island trying to create offense; thus the need for secondary scoring to come from anywhere the Knights can get it.
Tuch’s goal was the kind Vegas needed; in front of the net with the power forward generating the chance. The Golden Knights got 42 shots on Talbot in Game 1, but not enough came from the high-danger areas. On Tuesday, that became an emphasis. Tuch had a chance with 7:15 left in the first with a deflection that nearly beat Talbot, just seconds after he set up Chandler Stephenson with a chance from the slot.
“It’s huge going forward,” Tuch said. “We had a few different opportunities right there on the doorstep. That was our mentality, to try and get inside of them. They like to pack it in, especially in the D zone. They’re a good defensive team. If we’re able to get inside and get pucks in there, just kind of whack at them, get a few lucky bounces, it’ll be huge for the series.”
Make no mistake: The Wild’s defense gave the Golden Knights fits. Vegas had 10 shots in the second, but generated 24 attempts. And for the first 10 minutes of the middle frame, Minnesota took away passing lanes and kept everything, for the most part, to the outside.
Once Marchessault scored, everything opened up. Seven of the Golden Knights’ 10 attempts on goal in the second period came after Marchessault’s goal, which included Tuch’s go-ahead tally.
“The response was key,” said Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer. “We were going, on that point, four-plus periods without one. I just sensed we were a different group after that goal. It was great timing by Marchy to get that one right away, obviously, and put us back in the game, but the importance of actually getting a goal can’t be minimalized because I thought we were much better after that.”
While being down 2-0 in a best-of-seven doesn’t constitute throwing dirt on the grave, it very well could’ve gone downhill had the Golden Knights failed to find offense in Game 2. It would’ve also been more of a shame had they wasted consecutive stellar performances from Fleury. If not for him, that panic button would’ve been smashed in the locker room.
Whether this translates to Xcel Energy Center for Game 3 remains to be seen, but at the very least, the Golden Knights know goaltending will travel with them to Minnesota.
And hopefully, for their sake, they bring a sledgehammer with them to smash the dam.