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Golden Knights at Wild — Game 4 Preview: Vegas looks to build on Game 3 success

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Vegas won the first game in St. Paul; can they win the second?

Vegas Golden Knights v Minnesota Wild - Game Three
Kevin Fiala of the Minnesota Wild skates with the puck while Zach Whitecloud of the Vegas Golden Knights defends in the second period of Game 3 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Vegas Golden Knights won their second straight game against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, bringing the series to 2-1 in favor of the Golden Knights. The 5-2 victory brought the Golden Knights’ record in St. Paul to 2-3-0 this year. It was the Knights’ first regulation win in Minnesota in franchise history.

The Golden Knights will look to continue their winning ways on Saturday, as Vegas could extend its series lead to 3-1. Minnesota will look to play a game more similar to the first period on Thursday rather than the other two when the Golden Knights were largely dominant.

After Pete DeBoer’s Game 3 lineup substitutions largely paid off — Patrick Brown, in for an injured Tomas Nosek, scored his second career playoff goal for the Knights (in three games), and Nick Holden added two primary assists — he likely won’t make any more on Saturday. Still, those two substitutions were unexpected, so who knows. There is still one important player who still needs to draw back in, though (maybe not saying his name this time will bring him back).

Notably, neither Brown nor Holden was on the ice for a goal against in Game 3.

Thursday’s game saw a prominent emergence in the series for Mark Stone, who scored two goals and led the Golden Knights with 1.04 expected goals. He now has 13 points in 11 games against the Wild this season (including the regular season), with the next highest point total (9) belonging to William Karlsson.

Minnesota’s Marcus Johansson went down early in the game and is now out indefinitely with a broken arm. Zach Parise, who has been a healthy scratch so far this series, could take his place, with prospect Matt Boldy being another option.

The Golden Knights still need to sort out their power play.

In 18:37 in this series so far, the Vegas man advantage has just one goal, coming late in Game 2 when the Golden Knights already had a 2-1 lead and after Cam Talbot had been pulled and then put back in for the late power play. The Golden Knights’ power play has 2.4 expected goals and 22 shots but hasn’t had the best luck with high-danger chances. Turning that around could be critical tonight and in this series.

Securing a 3-1 series lead and returning to Vegas for Game 5 could be huge for Vegas’ momentum, especially after dropping Game 1 for the simple fact that they couldn’t score. That hasn’t been a problem over the past two games, as the Golden Knights have scored a combined eight goals.

Here’s what to watch for as Vegas attempts to extend its playoff winning streak.

What to watch for

  • The Golden Knights need to do a better job of showing up and being ready for the first period. In this series, the Wild — in addition to outscoring the Golden Knights 2-0 in the first period thanks to Thursday’s contest — have largely outplayed the Golden Knights in the opening frame. Minnesota has 2.87 expected goals across all strengths in the opening frame to Vegas’ 2.44. At 5-on-5, it’s 2.21 to 1.78. While the Golden Knights have outshot the Wild, Minnesota has controlled the quality in the initial 20 minutes. That has to change, even if Vegas has been great at playing from behind so far in this series. Falling behind to Minnesota often could set a bad pattern if the Golden Knights survive, and doing so lowers the odds of that survival. Vegas, in short, has to be ready and at its best at the start of the game.
  • Through three games, the number-one ranked Vegas penalty kill is proving it was the best in the league for a reason. Vegas has allowed six shots and 0.85 expected goals in eight minutes against the Wild’s 24th-ranked power play. In Game 3, the Golden Knights generated more shots and expected goals on the penalty kill than they allowed (two shots to one, 0.28 expected goals to 0.04 against). The Golden Knights have no shortage of forwards and defensemen they can put on the penalty kill and trust to kill off those important minutes. One of the keys to Vegas’ first two victories in this series has been shorthanded play, and it will likely remain important going forward.
  • Both goaltenders have started nine games in this series (six in the regular season, three in the postseason), but Marc-Andre Fleury has clearly pulled ahead as the better netminder. Fleury now has a .929 save percentage (even after Game 3’s subpar statistical game with a save percentage below .900 due to low shot volume) in his nine games against Minnesota, saving 3.63 goals above expected with a .845 save percentage. At the other end — even including his shutout in Game 1 — Talbot has a .912 save percentage and has allowed 1.63 goals above expected. Vegas has had good fortune when generating chances on the Minnesota net with Talbot in goal. Keep getting those chances and the Golden Knights could find more success.

How to watch

Time: 5 p.m.

TV: NBC, AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM