After losing back-to-back games in Denver, the Knights responded with back-to-back wins in front of a sold-out crowd at T-Mobile Arena, including Sunday night’s 5-1 win in Game 4.
It was Vegas’ best performance of the series, and it has put Colorado on its heels heading into Game 5.
Both teams made minor personnel changes, but none proved to be too consequential in the end. For the third straight game, it was Philipp Grubauer against Marc-Andre Fleury, and for the second game in a row, Fleury’s team came out on top.
Another stellar effort in the second period was the difference in the contest, and a brilliant night for Vegas’ second line helped the Knights even up the best-of-seven series at 2-2.
The Knights’ dominant play started early.
In fact, Vegas had a fantastic 2-on-1 opportunity on the first shift of the game before generating two other solid scoring chances early.
However, it was Colorado that opened the scoring just 1:50 into the game.
Brandon Saad scored his sixth goal in seven games by cleaning up a rebound in the crease.
The shot from J.T. Compher, part of Colorado’s new-look line (along with Andre Burakovsky) hit Fleury and then bounced off the skate of Vegas defenseman Zach Whitecloud before landing softly in front of a wide-open net.
Another look at the Saad goal. Tough one to give up after a start like that. pic.twitter.com/EVrIx9PBwA— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) June 7, 2021
It was a soft goal for Fleury to surrender, and it felt like a particularly demoralizing turn of events considering how well Vegas had been playing.
But the Knights didn’t let up.
The frenetic pace continued, and the Knights capitalized with a goal of their own just over five minutes later.
Vegas was able to even things up on one of the strangest and greasiest goals of the postseason.
A brutal Patrik Nemeth turnover behind Colorado’s net put the puck right on the stick of Reilly Smith, who appeared to beat Grubauer on a backhand. However, the puck hit the cross bar, bounced into the crease and was then cleared to the boards by Ryan Graves. But before Grubauer and the Avalanche defensemen realized the play was still live, William Karlsson had already fed the puck to the crease, where Marchessault was all too happy to take care of the rest.
It was Marchessault’s second goal in the last two games and was an excellent response from the Knights, who had another great start despite giving up the first goal of the game.
Unlike the previous five periods of hockey, Colorado had more of an answer this time around, and it was the Avs’ best period in several games.
At one point the Knights held a 12-4 advantage in shots, but the Avalanche played aggressively and continued to push in a relatively evenly-matched frame, the first one since Game 2.
Even so, the Knights still led in quantity and quality. Grubauer faced the more difficult load, including 1.19 expected goals at 5-on-5 (compared to Fleury’s 0.54) and seven high-danger chances at 5-on-5 to Colorado’s two.
But Vegas took things to another level in the second period.
It started just 71 seconds into the frame when Max Pacioretty beat Grubauer with a top-shelf laser.
It came on a 3-on-2 for Vegas, and the excellent transition play resulted in a Pacioretty snipe to re-claim a one-goal lead.
Vegas didn’t stop there, and the second-period magic reared its head once again.
It was one of the best periods Vegas has played all year.
The Knights won every battle, smothered any offensive breakouts by the Avalanche, had countless extended shifts in the offensive zone and were in complete control for the entire period.
They generated just 0.8 expected goals at 5-on-5 and outshot the Avs 8-5, but it was a stifling period nonetheless. The Avalanche had no answer for anything Vegas threw its way.
Eventually, the Knights made it count, putting Colorado in its first two-goal hole of the entire postseason.
Fittingly, it came on a Vegas power play.
It was the tail end of the man advantage (seven seconds remaining), but Marchessault netted his second of the game.
Set up along the boards, Marchessault’s first one-timed attempt was met by Grubauer’s pad, but when Alex Pietrangelo set him up a second time, he made no mistake, giving the Knights a 3-1 lead at 11:28 of the second period.
It was an especially strong game for Pietrangelo, who finished the night with an assist, two shots, three hits and five blocks in a game-high 25:42.
The Knights took the two-goal lead into the locker room, setting up a potentially series-altering final frame.
The Avalanche came out with a burst to start the period, and Joonas Donskoi nearly lit the lamp for Colorado when he hit the post in the first minute of the frame (the first of two posts for Colorado in the third period). The Avalanche had a momentous opportunity with an early power play, but the Golden Knights’ penalty kill came up with a key stop, preserving Vegas’ two-goal lead and holding back a dangerous Colorado offense.
Just 2:07 later, the Golden Knights’ second line would not be denied.
Marchessault completed the hat trick on a phenomenal shift by the Misfits line to give Vegas a commanding three-goal lead at 6:02 of the third period.
The Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith trio has come alive in recent games, and they led the way in Game 4.
It was the Knights’ second hat trick in the team’s last three home games this postseason (Mattias Janmark recorded three goals in Game 7 against Minnesota).
Though Colorado didn’t fold, the Knights didn’t sit back, either, and it was the Knights who scored the next and final goal of the game.
Vegas’ fourth line had another 3-on-2 rush, which resulted in a goal for Patrick Brown, his second of the postseason.
Brown made contact with Grubauer’s pad as he — and the puck — traveled past the goal line, but Colorado’s challenge failed to overturn the call, thus giving the Knights two minutes on the power play with under seven minutes left.
The Avalanche killed it off and were left with under five minutes to pull off a miraculous comeback.
That did not happen. Instead, the Knights finished off their glorious 60-minute effort, which included five unanswered goals.
The Knights excelled in every area of competition in Game 4.
Fleury wasn’t overly tested but, after the Saad goal, later made every stop he needed to. The Knights won puck races, had the better play in all three zones, blocked shots and won the special teams battle. It was a completely dominant effort.
But for the play of Grubauer, Vegas could have run up the score even more. That being said, it was his worst performance of the postseason.
Fortunately for the Knights, and to Colorado’s credit, the Avalanche did not allow frustration to boil over the way Vegas did in Game 1. That doesn’t mean Game 5 won’t be a heated battle between two teams fighting for every inch.
Though it was Vegas’ second line that dominated on the scoresheet, the Chandler Stephenson line has had the more significant influence on the series by shutting down Colorado’s stacked top line.
Colorado will look to address that, especially now that the series shifts back to Colorado for Game 5 on Tuesday. The Avalanche have gone 20-0-1 on home ice going back to early March.
After two games in Vegas, however, this is a brand new series.