Despite blowing a 3-1 series lead, the Golden Knights closed out their first-round series against the Minnesota Wild with a 6-2 win in Game 7 Friday night at T-Mobile Arena.
It was the first Game 7 at T-Mobile Arena and the first time the Knights clinched a playoff series on home ice.
For the seventh straight game, it was Marc-Andre Fleury against Cam Talbot, and for the fourth time in the series, Fleury came out on top.
But one addition to tonight’s installment of the matchup was Max Pacioretty, who made an eventful return to the lineup for his first game of the series and first game action since May 1.
That only intensified the atmosphere in T-Mobile Arena — featuring 12,156 fans — to start the game, and the Golden Knights fed off that energy out of the gate.
The Vegas forecheck was relentless early on, and it was clear that the Knights were going for it rather than sitting back; it seemed like it was only a matter of time before it was reflected on the scoresheet.
Sure enough, just over five minutes into the game, the Golden Knights struck first as Mattias Janmark made a gorgeous move on a breakaway to give Vegas the 1-0 lead.
Janmark got around Minnesota defenseman Ian Cole, who was without a stick, and fooled Talbot with a backhand-forehand deke for his first regular goal as a member of the Golden Knights (he scored an empty-net goal in the regular season).
Aside from a few scoring opportunities for the Wild’s fourth line, it was all Vegas in the first half of the frame. But while Vegas remained aggressive, the Wild eventually settled in, and Minnesota started to pick up some momentum after a power play despite not converting.
In fact, Zach Parise had a great chance in alone, but Fleury poke-checked the puck in tight to break up the play.
The next time, however, Parise would not be denied.
Parise took advantage of a Vegas mistake, as he was left completely alone in front of Fleury. A bouncing puck made its way to the net-front, and Parise made an impressive move to direct the puck between his legs with a no-look shot that beat Fleury five-hole.
Fleury shut things down with a key multi-save sequence later in the period when Minnesota continued to build momentum, keeping things tied through 20 minutes.
The teams traded goals early in the second period as well, but once again, the middle frame belonged to the Golden Knights.
Nicolas Hague got things started just over two minutes in with his first career playoff goal and first point of the series, scoring on a point shot directly off a faceoff win by William Karlsson.
It didn’t take long for Minnesota to respond, though, and once again, Minnesota made Vegas pay for a mistake.
This time, the Wild did so on a power play after Ryan Reaves delivered a dirty and unnecessary hit from behind on Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, sending him head-first into the post.
The Wild were already missing a top defenseman in Jonas Brodin, who exited the game in the first and did not return. Suter was helped off the ice but remained in the game.
The Knights were very fortunate it wasn’t a major penalty—which would have been his second major in back-to-back Game 7’s and the Knights’ third in three Game 7’s—but Reaves sat for just two minutes for interference.
Or 13 seconds, to be more precise, as that’s how long it took the Wild to even things up at 2-2.
It was Minnesota’s second straight game with a power-play goal, and it was the first playoff goal in the career of rookie sensation Kirill Kaprizov, who scored off a well-placed feed from Mats Zuccarello from behind the net.
The see-saw action continued, and just over three minutes later, the Golden Knights took back the lead.
But this time, they didn’t let it go.
It was none other than Pacioretty who scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal, giving Vegas a 3-2 lead at 7:44 of the second period.
The Wild lost track of Pacioretty, who scored on a one-timer in front of the net, taking the shot from one knee.
Chandler Stephenson got the primary assist on the play after chasing down the dump-in and finding Pacioretty in front. It was a soft shift by Minnesota but a great play by the Vegas center.
Notably, it was Shea Theodore’s first point of the series, and he would add a second roughly six minutes later when Zach Whitecloud doubled the Knights’ lead at 13:38.
YOU LOVE 2 SEE IT!!! ☁️ pic.twitter.com/h2wgktOWPM— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) May 29, 2021
Whitecloud picked a corner on an extended shift for Vegas, beating Talbot to give the Knights a two-goal lead. It was Whitecloud’s first goal of the series, and it finally gave the Knights some breathing room.
Minnesota kept pushing in the third period, but Fleury and the Knights defended the lead and weathered the storm, holding the Wild to just four shots (and 20 on the night).
Janmark scored his second of the game at 12:36 of the third period, giving Vegas a commanding three-goal lead.
Nicolas Roy forced a turnover behind the net and sent a backhand feed to the wide-open Janmark.
Janmark later added an empty-net goal for good measure, diving to complete his first career hat trick with 3:07 remaining in the period, putting the game and series away.
The trade-deadline acquisition had a sensational game, stepping up in the most important game of the year.
He was one of several unexpected names that littered the scoresheet.
Both members of Vegas’ bottom pair scored critical goals in the second period, and Theodore finally broke through, recording assists on two of Vegas’ three second-period tallies.
But that was simply indicative of the team-wide effort put forth by the Knights. In total, the Knights got points from 11 players in the lineup.
Five out of six Vegas defensemen recorded at least a point, which illustrates a clear advantage for the Knights in this game. The Wild were already without Carson Soucy, and they lost Brodin early and had to roll a shaken Suter for the second half of the game.
Fleury didn’t face an onslaught but made key saves when he had to, including on Parise early and on Nico Sturm at 4-2. He stopped 18 of 20 shots for a save percentage of .900, giving up two or fewer goals for the fifth time in seven games.
It was an incredible series by the Wild, who truly gave the Knights a run for their money. Minnesota had a response for each of Vegas’ two early leads, not to mention fighting back from trailing 3-1 in the series.
But the Knights ultimately took care of business when the season was on the line, rediscovering their offense in the process.
Yet again, a dominant second-period performance proved to be the difference. The Knights not only scored three goals but outshot the Wild 17-6 and held a 25-13 edge in Corsi at 5-on-5.
Aside from Reaves’ dangerous play, it was nearly a flawless period of hockey, and it came at a critical point in the game.
The win sets up the long-awaited matchup between the Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche, who are coming off a four-game sweep against St. Louis.
This will be the first playoff meeting between these two clubs.
The second-round series is set to begin Sunday in Denver.