The Vegas Golden Knights stole a 3-1 victory against the Seattle Kraken Thursday night at Climate Pledge Arena to secure their third Pacific Division title in six seasons and finish atop the Western Conference with a franchise record-setting 111 points and 51 wins.
The Golden Knights needed to secure one point in the contest in order to clinch the division; they came away with two.
As such, Vegas will face the eighth-seeded Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs; Game 1 is set for Tuesday, April 18.
The Golden Knights were outplayed for almost the entire game, but Laurent Brossoit, who got his sixth start in the last eight games, was absolutely stellar. He finished the game with 30 saves on 31 shots for a .968 save percentage.
Jack Eichel and Shea Theodore returned to the lineup and played 17:58 and 17:22, respectively. Eichel tallied an assist on Vegas’ game-winning goal for his team-high 66th point of the season.
It was all Seattle early, as the well-rested Kraken swarmed the Golden Knights with their signature relentless forecheck. The Golden Knights were overwhelmed and had trouble getting out of the zone, which was a theme throughout the contest.
Brossoit came up with some early saves to weather the storm until the Golden Knights got a very fortunate bounce. Defenseman Vince Dunn’s stretch pass from behind the net never reached its destination; instead, it deflected off the skate of Reilly Smith and trickled into the Seattle cage to give Vegas the 1-0 lead just shy of 10 minutes into the period.
It was Smith’s 200th career goal and 26th of the season.
But eventually, the Kraken broke through, evening things up at 1-1 with 3:40 remaining in the first. It was another hard-working shift for the Kraken, who had a lot of moving parts; one of them was Jaden Schwartz, who found open ice in the slot and fired a one-timed blast past Brossoit.
Ivan Barbashev had a clear-cut breakaway in the final minute of the period after a Seattle turnover, but Philipp Grubauer stayed with him and shut it down. It was Vegas’ fifth shot of the period (fourth actual shot, not including the goal).
In the end, the Kraken outshot Vegas 13-5 in a very lopsided opening 20 minutes. Seattle managed a 70.39 percent expected goal share and had more than twice as many shooting attempts with a 31-15 edge in Corsi (67.39 percent), according to Natural Stat Trick.
If not for the fortuitous deflection and some solid goaltending by Brossoit, the Golden Knights could have found themselves in a multi-goal hole early.
The Kraken continued to come in waves, forcing Brossoit to make some huge saves early in the middle frame.
Seattle had two particularly dangerous opportunities in a 30-second stretch, hitting the post and then getting a breakaway. Brossoit made a big pad save on Daniel Sprong to keep Seattle at bay, but the Kraken continued to pour on the pressure.
Both teams exchanged a series of power plays. On one of Vegas’ two power plays, some indecision at the blue line led to a Seattle shorthanded breakaway the other way. Pavel Dorofeyev got back but had to take a holding call to prevent a possible 2-on-0. On the ensuing 4-on-4, a fifth penalty was called, setting up a 5-on-4 situation for Vegas on the delayed penalty.
But that call was never made.
Eichel jumped onto the ice as the extra attacker and got the puck to the net; Alec Martinez was there to clean up the rebound, batting the bouncing puck out of the air into the side of the net to give Vegas its second lead of the game.
Seattle hit another post later in the period and got another power play but was unable to convert. In total, there were five official penalties called, but the only goal came on the delayed call at 12:37. The goal was technically a shorthanded tally even though the Golden Knights had an extra player on the ice; it was Martinez’s third goal of the season.
Brossoit stopped all 12 shots he faced in the second period, which was another period in which Seattle had the clear advantage in play; the Kraken led 9-4 in high-danger chances and 18-9 in scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick.
However, it was the Golden Knights who took a 2-1 lead into the second intermission.
The Golden Knights had some better looks in the third period, particularly from the third line. Even so, it was Seattle’s most dominant period of the game.
The Kraken got another power play with less than eight minutes left, setting up a potential turning point in the game. However, the Vegas penalty kill came through in a big way, holding Seattle to one shot on goal and preserving the one-goal lead.
It wasn’t always convincing, but the Golden Knights made smart plays to get the job done. At one point, William Karlsson was without a stick but blocked a shot from the point; at the tail end of the kill, Nicolas Roy also had no stick but sent the puck down the ice with his glove before heading off for a change.
Seattle completely took over possession in the second half of the period. However, Brossoit closed the door, making the necessary stops on shots that got through and getting help from his teammates to get in shooting lanes and clear rebounds. Vegas did what it had to do to close out the win.
Like Smith’s goal in the first period, the insurance marker was not scored on an actual shot. However, this one was the result of an intelligent play.
With the goalie pulled, Chandler Stephenson used an active stick at the blue line to tip the puck out of the zone and down the ice, and it ended up hitting the empty net. It was his 16th goal of the season and allowed him to set a new career high in points with 65.
Seattle finished the third period with a 25-8 edge in Corsi (4-1 in high-danger) and a 10-2 advantage in scoring chances. But the Golden Knights scored the lone goal, shutting out the Kraken offense in the second and third periods for the second game in a row.
That being said, this was not a very strong game by the Golden Knights, as Seattle was in control for almost the entire 60 minutes. Vegas also did not play with discipline, leading to four Seattle power plays. But at the end of the day, the Golden Knights scored a goal in all three periods and never trailed.
Good teams find ways to win, and that’s exactly what Vegas did tonight. Goaltending and the penalty kill were the primary reasons for Vegas’ success.
Brossoit was spectacular, especially in the second period when Seattle could have blown the game open. He and the Vegas penalty kill went 4-for-4 on the night. Brossoit stopped 50 of 52 shots in the final two games of the regular season and finished the year with zero losses in regulation (7-0-3).
Vegas did not lose in regulation in the month of April and finished the season on an incredible 22-4-5 run following the All-Star break.
One year after missing the postseason for the first time in franchise history, the Golden Knights had a record-setting campaign. They defied the odds, especially in net, and got contributions from throughout the lineup. Though the special teams have been inconsistent for some time, the Golden Knights have played extremely effective hockey over the last 10 weeks, and they’ll look to bring that effort into the club’s fifth postseason appearance in six seasons.
It will be the first for Eichel.