The Knights secured the series-clinching 6-3 victory Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena, eliminating the Colorado Avalanche in six games in the best-of-seven, second-round series between the top two teams in the league.
After dropping the first two games of the series, the Golden Knights stormed back with four consecutive wins to knock out the winner of the Presidents’ Trophy.
It arguably was the most exhilarating game of the series and featured nine goals, multiple lead changes and fast-pace hockey all around.
The intensity of this game was unleashed almost immediately, as both teams scored on their first shot of the game.
Colorado took a 1-0 lead just 23 seconds into the game.
A Shea Theodore turnover in the neutral zone put the puck on the stick of Nathan MacKinnon, who skated into Vegas’ end and found a wide-open Devon Toews. The defenseman didn’t hesitate, blasting the on-edge puck past Marc-Andre Fleury’s shoulder.
The lead didn’t last long, however, as the Knights tied the game just 52 seconds later.
Philipp Grubauer was fooled by Reilly Smith along the boards and didn’t track the puck from the corner to the point, so he never even saw Nick Holden’s shot from the blue line, which bounced between his pads.
Grubauer responded quickly, however, stopping several A-plus scoring chances, including a semi-breakaway by Alex Tuch on the very next shift as well as a jam play by Nicolas Roy later in the frame.
He got some assistance from the crossbar on an Alec Martinez shot but otherwise responded well, as did Fleury, who made several key stops throughout the period.
But it was the Knights who took a 2-1 lead when the red-hot second line struck again, scoring for the ninth time in the last six games.
The Avalanche had multiple opportunities to clear but were unable to do so, and Vegas pounced.
Martinez sent a no-look pass to William Karlsson, who got just enough on the one-timer to beat the sliding Grubauer by an inch for the go-ahead goal.
Though mistakes led to all three goals, it was one of the more entertaining frames of the series, as both teams were competitive and flying up and down the ice trading chances.
Colorado had control of the play, but the Knights blocked 14 shots in the first period alone. Martinez was especially effective with several key shot blocks on Gabriel Landeskog and MacKinnon. He finished the game with nine.
Both teams added two goals in the second period, though it was all Avalanche in the first half of the frame.
Just 2:23 in, the Golden Knights got called for delay of game once again, only this time it was Alex Pietrangelo instead of Theodore.
Mikko Rantanen capitalized 1:24 into the man advantage to even things up at 2-2. His shot deflected off the skate of Zach Whitecloud and past Fleury.
Fleury came up with several key saves following the goal, including one on MacKinnon on a 3-on-1 and another on a Landeskog deflection shortly thereafter.
But the Avs were the better team for most of the period.
The Knights finished the frame with six shots but had two through the first 14:27 until Keegan Kolesar scored the first playoff goal of his career on Vegas’ third shot of the period.
Kolesar was moved to the fourth-line center position for tonight’s game with Ryan Reaves slotting in for Patrick Brown. After winning the faceoff in the offensive zone, Kolesar went to the net and was rewarded when a Pietrangelo point shot found his stick in front and deflected into the net.
Theodore collected the secondary assist on the play for his 50th career playoff point.
Like both teams had been doing all night, though, Colorado responded.
Just 2:25 later, Andre Burakovsky scored his first goal of the playoffs and 10th all-time goal in elimination games to bring the game to a tie once again.
Burakovsky used Martinez, who was deep in the zone, as a screen to beat Fleury with a well-placed wrister.
Too much room for Burakovsky. Great pass by Bellemare. pic.twitter.com/e70nFqkDaQ— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) June 11, 2021
The Golden Knights squeezed out a little extra second-period magic with what turned out to be the game-winning goal in the final 17 seconds of the frame.
It was another costly shift by the Avalanche, who turned the puck over and failed to clear the zone with multiple soft plays. Tuch took advantage by banking the puck off the end boards, and Pietrangelo finished it off, getting just enough on the shot to elude Grubauer, who only got a piece of it.
It was Pietrangelo’s first playoff goal with Vegas and second point of the game; it wasn’t only the game-winning goal but the series-clinching goal as well.
It was a critical goal for the Golden Knights against an Avalanche team that had had a very strong period and had already come back to tie the game twice.
That’s especially true since the Avalanche were in complete control of play once again early in the third period.
However, it was Fleury’s time to shine.
The Vezina nominee came up with several massive saves that were instrumental in helping Vegas maintain the lead and come away victorious in the end.
In particular, he made two saves on Valeri Nichushkin and another on J.T. Compher that were crucial in holding off the surging Avs.
Once again, Fleury came up with the timely saves. He wasn’t perfect but had another strong performance, much like Game 5, finishing the night with 30 saves on 33 shots for a .909 save percentage. He has won five out of his last six starts and finished this series with a 4-1 record.
The Knights gave him further goal support by adding two more goals in the third period to solidify the win.
William Carrier scored on a fortuitous deflection at 11:46 of the period, and Pacioretty later added an empty-net goal to truly put it away.
It was a heck of an effort by the Colorado Avalanche, who fought back from multiple deficits and were the better team on the night. MacKinnon was especially noticeable and tallied assists on each of Colorado’s first two goals.
However, the Knights made the most of their opportunities, scoring five goals on Grubauer on just 22 shots.
It was a true team effort by Vegas.
Four different Golden Knights scored their first goal of the playoffs (Holden, Kolesar, Pietrangelo, Carrier), the fourth line accounted for two goals and 12 different Vegas skaters recorded at least a point.
Five of those 12 players were defensemen, the only exception being Whitecloud. However, Whitecloud recorded seven blocks and was a plus-three, which was the best among blueliners.
Depth scoring and goaltending were two keys to this game, and the Knights had the obvious edge in both.
The Avalanche were the better possession team (61-48 Corsi at 5-on-5), but Vegas’ 34 blocked shots shut down a lot of chances.
The Golden Knights prevailed in the end, winning all three home games in the series. They will have home-ice advantage for the rest of the playoffs.
Next up is a third-round matchup against the Montreal Canadiens, which is set to begin Monday.