Somehow, that’s not when the game was decided. It was finished when Colorado was being, well, Colorado.
The Avalanche put six pucks past Robin Lehner in the first 40 minutes of his first start in three weeks, en route to a 7-1 win over the Golden Knights to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 second-round series.
Game 2 is Wednesday.
“You just can’t get down like that,” said Vegas captain Mark Stone. “But we’ll flush this one. We’ll see what we did wrong. There’s a few areas that we were actually not bad at, but there’s a lot of things we need to improve going forward.”
Marc-Andre Fleury started all seven games of Vegas’ first-round series against the Minnesota Wild, allowing only two goals in the Game 7 clincher. But in what was deemed a need to get Fleury some rest, with an extra day off before Game 2 on Wednesday, Lehner was asked to take on an Avalanche squad that was sitting around since May 23 wondering who it would play.
The last time Lehner played was May 10 against this same Avalanche team; the same night Vegas played 15 skaters due to injuries and cap issues, losing 2-1 at home.
Only this time it looked like Vegas actually played with 15 skaters.
“It was a perfect opportunity in our minds to use our other starter, and that’s been a strength of ours all year, and make sure Robin got in a game and stayed sharp because we know we’re going to need him,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “So there was a lot of rationale for it. I wouldn’t change the decision. The game tonight wasn’t about Robin Lehner, and obviously, we didn’t play well enough in front of him.”
The argument of rest discrepancy is valid. Colorado had seven days off after sweeping the St. Louis Blues in the first round. Vegas, after a grueling set against Minnesota, had one.
William Karlsson scored the lone goal for Vegas, which if you had already changed the channel by then, you’re not at fault.
If you kept the channel on NBC, you saw Cale Makar shred the Vegas defense for a four-point night (one goal, three assists) to lead Colorado. Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon had two goals and an assist each, and Mikko Rantanen had a goal and an assist.
In short, Colorado’s big-money guys came to play. Did they ever.
The rested Avalanche looked like a track squad. They outshot Vegas 14-8 in the first period and made it look effortless. Vegas had a 3-on-2 with Jonathan Marchessault, Shea Theodore and Reilly Smith; the only ones back were Makar and Toews.
Makar broke up the centering pass from Marchessault, and immediately turned it into a 3-on-2 the other way for Colorado. Rantanen fired a backhand from the right circle, which Lehner covered everywhere but the corner. It was a goal he should’ve stopped, and a 1-0 Colorado lead.
It doesn’t matter the opponent for Colorado. Once the Avalanche enter the offensive zone, it’s like a free-flowing offense in basketball that runs a pick-and-roll for the entirety of the shot clock, only to find the big man alone in the post for the easy dunk. Makar is the lethal point guard in this situation. He keeps the puck moving with his eyes up the whole time. Aided by Nicolas Roy puck watching, Makar found Landeskog all alone for a 2-0 lead.
Then the Monstars from Colorado stole the Golden Knights’ second-period superpowers. MacKinnon scored two of the Avalanche’s four goals in the second. Landeskog added his second, and Brandon Saad scored 1:04 into the frame.
That’s the rest benefit for a team that relies on speed and movement. That’s why the Avalanche looked like the Harlem Globetrotters in the second period; nifty passes, easy goals, no resistance from the Washington Generals’ defense.
Normally, the Generals would just keep playing even if they were getting blown out by 100. The Golden Knights did not fit this mold.
Mattias Janmark, fresh off a hat trick in Game 7, left the game in the second period after a blindside shot from Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves. Vegas spent the rest of the way trying to retaliate; first in the form of back-to-back penalties from William Carrier, than Ryan Reaves taking Graves down and being assessed an “intent to injure” match penalty in the third period.
“That’s a blindside interference,” Stone said. “Obviously didn’t like the hit. We lost a player. It’s an interference blindside hit. We’re trying to get those out of the game.”
Not a soul in Vegas has experienced a whooping like that all while throwing salt on their own wounds. It’s likely Reaves is met with some discipline by the League office, and given how nothing came of his cross-check to Ryan Suter in Game 7, the wheel may not land in his favor this time.
The good news for the Golden Knights: they have an extra day off before Game 2. It’s not out of the realm of possibility they can rebound before the series shifts to a 100 percent capacity T-Mobile Arena. All the while, the Golden Knights have never gone down 2-0 in a series.
Moral victories, or something.
“Well, obviously, you know, you’re not feeling good about yourself,” DeBoer said. “But I think we have to put it in perspective and playoffs are about having short memories and getting ready for the next one. Whether you lose 2-1 or 7-1, you can debate the meaning of whether you lose badly or not badly. The bottom line was, we weren’t good enough tonight. They were very good. We’ve got to be better in Game 2.”