The Golden Knights looked like the lesser team to start off the first period, getting just one shot on goal before their power-play opportunity 7:26 into the game. Even that power play resulted in just two shots and a shot against.
Meanwhile, the Avalanche saw Mikko Rantanen open the scoring just 4:55 into the game. Gabriel Landeskog followed six minutes later. Rantanen’s goal, an odd-man rush, was the result of several Golden Knights looking tired and not putting in the necessary effort, but also looked preventable from a goaltending standpoint. Landeskog’s was the result of the same problem Vegas had in round one, as he was left wide open near the net.
Vegas was outshot 6-13 at 5-on-5 in the opening frame, continuing their difficulties in first periods. While the Golden Knights were able to drive more chances to the high-danger area (2-1 at 5-on-5), the Avs were able to score those two goals. Robin Lehner, who got his first start of the postseason, allowed those goals on 0.58 expected goals against.
In the first period, the Golden Knights showed signs of fatigue after coming off Friday’s Game 7 win against the Minnesota Wild. Meanwhile, the Avalanche looked like they had little-to-no rust after waiting nearly a week for the Golden Knights to beat Minnesota.
Just 1:04 into the second period, Brandon Saad scored on a rebound to put the Avalanche up 3-0. Less than three minutes later, Nathan MacKinnon scored a relatively soft goal.
A little less than halfway through the game, Mattias Janmark left the game after a late, high hit by Ryan Graves.
In the middle of their second power-play opportunity, the Avs had Landeskog add another score in the same way as his first: alone at the net front.
Just 36 seconds later, William Karlsson scored to ensure the Golden Knights didn’t get shut out in Game 1 for the second straight series:
MacKinnon proceeded to show off his signature speed as he beat Vegas’s young shutdown pairing of Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud to make the score 6-1.
The Golden Knights in the third period, down five goals, resorted to more physical play and penalty escalation. Instead of going for more scoring, Vegas resorted to bully tactics. The Golden Knights seemed to give up on getting back into the contest and just focused on penalties and damage.
Perhaps nothing sums that up more than Ryan Reaves’ actions midway through the third period, resulting in a nine-minute power play for the Avalanche (a well-deserved nine minutes, it can be added):
Match penalty for Ryan Reaves for attempt to injure pic.twitter.com/7JEMzSN2h8— The Hockey News (@TheHockeyNews) May 31, 2021
It’s not good and it’s not what the Golden Knights should have been doing, but that seemed to be the strategy.
That string of penalties from Reaves resulted in a power-play goal (in nine minutes, it likely wasn’t possible for it not to) as Cale Makar scored his second goal of the playoffs and fourth point of the game.
The Golden Knights, in a series that demands that they put elite skill against elite skill, again started the fourth line. Vegas and Pete DeBoer may have needed this very bad Game 1 loss as a wake-up call that what worked against Minnesota is not going to work against Colorado.
Taking 44 penalty minutes — the total amount Vegas took in this game — in a 7-1 loss against a team that, other than the bad Graves play, isn’t typically that physical is not smart hockey.
On the bright side, the penalty kill was quite decent for much of the 7:45 in the third period, allowing just 0.5 expected goals against and seven shots in that time. Colorado was likely not trying as hard as they were earlier in the game on the power play, however, being up five goals.
Also on a positive note, the first line of Mark Stone, Chandler Stephenson and Max Pacioretty, while accounting for zero goals, didn’t give one up in 9:49 of 5-on-5 time together and was good, with an 83.33 percent shot share. Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith and Karlsson were also okay with a team-high 54.26 percent expected goal share at 5-on-5.
If only the rest of the team played as well.
The Golden Knights will attempt to leave this game and the events of it behind them and play a much better Game 2 on Wednesday.