5 things we learned from Golden Knights' complete performance against Oilers in Game 3
The Vegas Golden Knights improved to 3-0 on the road this postseason after pulling off a convincing 5-1 victory against the Edmonton Oilers in Game 3 of their second-round matchup Monday night at Rogers Place.
The Golden Knights were looking to bounce back after an uninspired effort in Game 2, a 5-1 win for the Oilers in Las Vegas.
Bounce back, they did.
It was Vegas' most complete effort of the series, and it came at a critical juncture. Even if Edmonton responds to even things up in Game 4, the Golden Knights had to win one of these two road games. They took care of business the first chance they had.
Here are five things we learned from Game 3.
1. The Vegas crease remains resilient
The Golden Knights set a franchise record by using five goaltenders during the regular season: Logan Thompson, Adin Hill, Laurent Brossoit, Jiri Patera and Jonathan Quick.
Three of those five – Thompson, Hill and Brossoit – missed time due to injury, which is what prompted Kelly McCrimmon to trade for Quick at the deadline.
Brossoit had the best numbers of the five despite playing fewer games than Thompson and Hill. He never lost in regulation, going 7-0-3 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in 10 starts.
He won five consecutive playoff games, including four straight against Winnipeg and Game 1 against Edmonton. But when he went down with a lower-body injury in the first period of Game 3, it was Hill's turn to step back into the spotlight.
Hill was perfect in relief, stopping all 25 shots he faced to help Vegas close out the win. It was the same reliable play he demonstrated during the regular season when he went 16-7-1 with a 2.50 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 25 starts.
Hill made his playoff debut in the third period of Game 2's lopsided defeat and stopped all four shots he faced. By the time he took the crease Monday night, he looked like he was in mid-season form.
"It definitely helped," Hill said about playing in Game 2. He had a few periods with Vegas' AHL affiliate as part of a conditioning stint but otherwise hadn't faced NHL opposition since March 7.
"It was nice to get in there for that third period the other day, kind of get a feel for the game, get up to game speed, because you can't simulate that in practice," he said.
He came up with timely saves, helped Vegas hold Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to zero points, took care of rebounds, scrambled when he needed to and never looked phased.
"He was awesome," Brayden McNabb said after the game. "He's got a great demeanor like that; we have all the confidence in the world in Adin. He came in and made things look pretty easy right when he got in."
Hill was strong in his own right, but he benefited from his teammates' fantastic defensive effort in front of him. The Golden Knights did not allow a single high-danger chance in the second period, which helped Hill settle in and stop 10 of 10 shots he faced.
"We've been through a lot with goaltenders all year," Bruce Cassidy said. "I think the situation gets magnified so our guys are even more alert about how to play because you don't want to hang [Hill] out to dry. He's a good teammate and he's been great for us all year. I thought they played the right way to allow him to get a feel for the game, and it worked out well for us in the end."
On Tuesday, Cassidy did not have an update on Brossoit but said he is still undergoing tests, including an MRI. He said the team may turn to Jiri Patera – but not Thompson – as the third goaltender depending on Brossoit's injury status.
Assuming Brossoit is out long-term – the injury did not look good – Hill will be Vegas' backstop moving forward.
Quick, who was dressed on the bench shortly after Brossoit went down the tunnel, will serve as his backup. Quick went 5-2-2 with a 3.13 goals-against average, .901 save percentage and one shutout in nine starts after the deadline. Following a strong start, he was inconsistent in his short stint with Vegas.
He has an impressive playoff pedigree, however, with two Stanley Cups and plenty of postseason experience under his belt. Quick is 49-43 with a 2.31 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and 10 shutouts in 92 career postseason games, all with Los Angeles.
He was lights-out in Los Angeles' 2012 Stanley Cup run, played very well in the following postseason and also was phenomenal against Vegas in the first round of the 2018 playoffs, where he went 0-4 despite giving up just seven goals in four games.
Quick has not played in more than a month but was solid in his final performance of the regular season, surrendering one goal on 25 shots (.960 save percentage) in a 2-1 shootout loss to Dallas on April 8.
The hope is that turning to Quick won't be necessary, but if that need arises, Quick has experience and poise on his side.
In Vegas' March 23 meeting against Calgary, Thompson got hurt with just over six minutes remaining in the third period. Quick came in cold off the bench in a tense one-goal game and looked very sharp, making two massive saves to preserve Vegas' lead and help close out the 3-2 win.
Regardless of who is in net, though, it is clear that it's business as usual for the Golden Knights.
"The next guy up has done a good job for us all year," Cassidy said in Tuesday's media availability. "The team adapts well to whoever's in there. We've tried to play the same way no matter who's in net."
2. Eichel is thriving on the big stage
When Jack Eichel was acquired by the Golden Knights on Nov. 4, 2021, he was excited for many reasons. A trade to Vegas ensured he'd be free to proceed with the surgical treatment of his choice, and he'd have an opportunity to play on a talented team. But it also presented him with a chance to compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in his career.
It didn't come to fruition in his first season, as the Golden Knights missed the postseason for the first time in franchise history. However, he has played a role in helping Vegas all year and continues to shine now that he has reached the second season.
Eichel finished the regular season first on the team in scoring with 66 points despite missing 15 games. He had the second-most goals (27) behind only Jonathan Marchessault.
Eichel recorded a goal and two assists in Monday's 5-1 win, setting up both of Marchessault's first-period goals and adding the dagger at 12:03 of the second period. It was his second three-point game of the playoffs and marked his third multi-point effort (second in this series), giving him five goals and 10 points in eight games.
Not a bad way to start one's playoff career.
But Eichel isn't just focused on production.
Even when he hasn't contributed offensively, his two-way game has been consistent. He made an excellent play late in Game 1 to strip McDavid and send the puck the length of the ice into the empty net to seal the win, and he has contributed with and without the puck throughout the last eight games.
"Jack has played a good 200-foot game all year," Cassidy said. "His defensive ability is excellent. ... His ability to close quick and make good reads has led to a lot of transition opportunities for him, and once he gets speed through the neutral zone, he's very dangerous."
That was evident in Game 3, where Eichel set up Marchessault and scored in transition.
At 5-on-5, Eichel is second on the team in primary assists per 60 (1.52), shots per 60 (11.17) and individual Corsi per 60 (19.29). He is tied with Chandler Stephenson for second on the team with 10 points, one shy of captain Mark Stone. However, he leads the team in scoring in the second-round series with five points (two goals and three assists) through three games.
His two linemates, Ivan Barbashev and Marchessault, are tied for second and third with a combined five points. That line has scored three high-danger goals, given up zero goals and managed a 60.33 percent expected goal share in 33:10 this series.
Eichel knows he doesn't have to be the one-stop shop he was in Buffalo, so while he may have more to give, he's just one part of a talented team that can only succeed as a group.
But needless to say, he is enjoying playoff hockey.
3. Marchessault gives offense another element
Prior to Game 3, Marchessault had 21 goals and 49 points in 73 postseason games with the Golden Knights; in seven postseason games in 2023, he had mustered zero goals and just two assists.
Now he has two goals and four points in eight games thanks to a clutch two-goal opening frame in Game 3. It was a vintage Marchessault performance, but it was one that had not been seen in the 2023 postseason.
But coming off a deflating 5-1 loss in Game 2 and less than two minutes after Edmonton took a 1-0 lead in front of a raucous home crowd, Marchessault stepped up, as he has done so many times over the last six seasons. He came through with two huge goals, including one that erased Edmonton's early lead and another that proved to be the game-winner.
If Marchessault, who led the Golden Knights in scoring during the regular season with 28 goals, can begin to really heat up, the Golden Knights' offense will be all the more threatening.
That's especially true since it would take some pressure off the third line of Stephenson, Stone and Brett Howden, which has played heavy defensive minutes.
The top line of Marchessault, Eichel and Barbashev has thrived in this series, recording a combined nine points through three games.
Vegas' complete effort in Game 3 was led by the top line, which combined for five points and played 12:22, 3:46 more than Vegas' other forward lines. The trio earned a 67.75 percent expected goal share and outscored the opposition 2-0 at 5-on-5.
The Golden Knights' strategy had a lot to do with that, though the top line executed particularly well.
"We didn't sit back," Marchessault said after the game. "I think we just kept pressuring them. We got a couple of turnovers on our forecheck, and when we put the pucks behind their D, that's when we can get a little mojo, and after maybe their D are backing up more we can make plays off the rush."
Even when he wasn't scoring earlier in the playoffs, Marchessault was getting his chances. In fact, he leads the team in shots per 60 (11.65), individual expected goals per 60 (1.39), individual Corsi per 60 (20.26), individual scoring chances per 60 (10.13) and individual high-danger Corsi per 60 (6.59).
At least two members of the top line are first and second in every category; Marchessault and Barbashev are the top two in individual expected goals, scoring chances and high-danger Corsi per 60, while Marchessault and Eichel rank at the top in shots and individual Corsi per 60.
Whether the Golden Knights stay out of the box or not, it will be impossible to prevent Edmonton from scoring. But when Vegas has needed a response to an Oilers goal, it has been the top line that has had the answer, with Barbashev and Marchessault accounting for three goals scored within two minutes of an Edmonton tally in Games 1 and 3.
If Marchessault can continue to go to the net and convert on his many chances, the top line – and Vegas in general – will have a much better chance of keeping pace with Edmonton's elite offense.
4. Discipline really is key
Discipline has been a critical factor in this series. The Oilers had the best power play in the NHL in the regular season and have had by far the most effective power play in the postseason. Prior to Game 3, Edmonton's man-advantage was operating at 56 percent.
The Oilers scored five power-play goals in the first two games, and giving Edmonton opportunities on the man-advantage was akin to not just playing with fire but hurling barrels of gasoline on a pile of lit dynamite.
In Game 3, the Golden Knights took just two penalties and did not give Edmonton a power play until the end of the second period when the game was already out of reach. Even then, it was an abbreviated man-advantage. Edmonton's first and only full two-minute power play came with just under five minutes left in the third period; Vegas killed it off.
The Golden Knights got some help from the referees, who put the whistles away for most of the night. That happens in the playoffs, though it may not happen in Game 4, so it's something the Golden Knights can't take lightly.
But without the power play and against a fervent effort by the Golden Knights, the Oilers were never able to get back into the game or garner much momentum. That proved to be monumental for the Golden Knights, as the Oilers had to manage without their not-so-secret sauce.
"We tried to finish our checks hard and clean when they were there and not chase it," Cassidy said about Vegas' discipline. "We checked with our feet, we kept our sticks down when we were finishing checks for the most part, and eventually you'll have some calls that will happen or won't. We just tried to play the right way and ended up not being in the box."
The Golden Knights were the least disciplined team in the regular season. They took a total of 243 penalties (21 fewer than every other team), took an average of 2.92 penalties per 60 (the next-lowest average was 3.19) and averaged 7:18 penalty minutes per game.
If they can return to the level of discipline they exhibited in the regular season and can refrain from responding to some of the extracurricular exchanges (i.e., late punches from Evander Kane), the Golden Knights will be in much better shape moving forward in this series.
"If we can keep it to 5-on-5, we feel we have a very good chance to win," Cassidy said.
It'll be easier said than done, but it's something Vegas has to pull off.
5. Cassidy continues to push the right buttons
The Golden Knights are far from reaching their goal this season, but it has been an impressive campaign thus far. Vegas got off to the best start in franchise history, finished first in the Western Conference with 51 wins and 111 points, went 22-4-5 coming out of the All-Star break and did it all with countless injuries to key players and a constantly revolving door in the crease.
In fact, Vegas had to use a franchise-high five goalies and dressed a franchise-high six during the season (Michael Hutchinson served as a backup but did not play).
The list of key roster players who sustained injuries during the regular season includes Thompson, Hill and Brossoit in net, Stone, Eichel, Reilly Smith, Marchessault, Nicolas Roy, Howden, William Carrier, Keegan Kolesar, Pavel Dorofeyev and Paul Cotter up front and Alec Martinez, Shea Theodore and Zach Whitecloud on the back end.
Alex Pietrangelo also missed time for personal reasons, and Daniil Miromanov was injured at the end of 2022. Many players suffered multiple injuries and missed extensive time.
The only players who played all 82 games were William Karlsson, Phil Kessel and McNabb, though McNabb missed time during the Winnipeg series.
But that never stopped Cassidy and the Golden Knights from finding ways to win.
Sure, Vegas had a rough stretch in January, going 4-6-2 and losing four straight leading up to the All-Star break, but the Golden Knights rebounded on the other side of that break and never looked back. Vegas was most consistent in its ability to bounce back and find ways to win.
That was true regardless of who was healthy, what the lines looked like or who was in net, and Cassidy deserves much of the credit for that stability.
His goalie-friendly system came through countless times during the year and paid dividends once again on Monday when Hill came in off the bench. He looked solid from the get-go, which was in part because Cassidy elected to put him in net for the third period of Game 2's blowout loss. That gave Hill his first live NHL action in two months.
It was just one more savvy decision by the Vegas bench boss, as Hill was needed the very next period. Hill said playing in that third period "definitely helped" him when he entered an intense Game 3, which was tied 1-1 at the time.
Also, Cassidy and the coaching staff made important intermission adjustments to help make life easier for Hill in the final 40 minutes. Vegas had given up multiple odd-man rushes in the first period but cleaned that up considerably in the middle frame.
The team played exceptionally well in front of Hill, helping him settle in so he could do what he did well all year: make timely saves.
Cassidy also has used Vegas' depth exceptionally well throughout the season and in the playoffs. He had to work around countless injuries to key players over the course of the 82-game campaign, and he has had a knack for finding the right combinations and utilizing depth players in plug-and-play situations.
He has gotten a lot out of players like Michael Amadio and Howden, and he has had a firm grasp on knowing when to make certain changes and when to stay the course.
It also can't be ignored that there has been no drama in the locker room, no controversy even when multiple goalies were healthy and no strife in the playoffs despite having an abundance of healthy players.
That's not necessarily a luxury Vegas has had in recent years, but the culture around this team appears to be positive and uniting. The players certainly deserve praise, but even when the injuries started to mount and the wins were harder to come by, Cassidy kept this team focused and ready to play, one game at a time.
Cassidy seemingly has pushed the right buttons all season, helping this team overcome various obstacles and persevere despite adversity. Vegas hasn't been elite in any particular area, but the Golden Knights have found ways to win on a consistent basis, and Cassidy has had a huge hand in that.
He knows this team and knows his players well, which explains why he was confident after Game 2 that his players would bounce back.
"The competitive spirit is in our group; it wasn't here [in Game 2]. It was here in Game 1, it was here [against] Winnipeg, so it'll come back. I have faith in the guys. We'll execute; we've been a good executing team."
That's exactly what happened on Monday.
There was no panic.
Despite being away from T-Mobile Arena, it was reminiscent of the Golden Knights' performance in Game 5 against Winnipeg when Vegas emphatically closed out the first-round series with a dominant statement game.
They pulled off another stellar effort Monday night in Edmonton, but this series is far from over.
Not surprisingly, Cassidy knows how to continue to get the most out of his hockey club.
"We're not gonna change a lot of our style of play," he said Tuesday. "I think as you go along we have to recognize that we still haven't played our best game yet. That's gotta be our goal every time no matter what happened the night before. We have to continue to get better."
Cassidy has played an enormous role in helping Vegas do just that all season, and it's why this Golden Knights team can never be counted out.