The Vegas Golden Knights will look to take their first lead of the series when they go head to head against the Winnipeg Jets in Game 3 Saturday afternoon at Canada Life Centre.
Vegas delivered a vintage Golden Knights performance in a 5-2 win Thursday night that was kickstarted by William Karlsson and solidified by Mark Stone.
The Golden Knights gave up the first goal of the game for the second time in the series.
But Karlsson turned the tide with a much-needed goal just under six minutes into the second period. It was his second goal in two games and gave the Golden Knights life. Jack Eichel potted his first career playoff goal less than five minutes later to put Vegas on top for the first time.
Though Winnipeg made it a 2-2 contest going into the third, Stone elevated his game exactly when Vegas needed it most; he and Chandler Stephenson combined for three unanswered goals to reset the series at 1-1.
Laurent Brossoit also had a bounceback performance, stopping 31 of 33 shots for a .939 save percentage. He was particularly effective in the first period when Winnipeg had 17 shots on goal, the same number of shots Vegas mustered in Game 1 in its entirety.
Today’s matchup is an important one; now that both teams have a win, Game 3 could be indicative of how the rest of this series might play out.
The Golden Knights are 8-3 all-time in Game 3 matchups and 5-3 in Game 3 when a series is tied 1-1. The Golden Knights and Jets were tied at 1-1 back in 2018 after the Jets won Game 1 and the Golden Knights took Game 2; Vegas went on to win Games 3, 4 and 5.
This series has gotten off to a similar start.
The first four periods were completely dominated by Winnipeg. However, the last two periods – in which Vegas outshot the Jets 31-16 and outscored them 5-1 – belonged to the Golden Knights.
Even so, Vegas entered the third period tied at 2-2; it was essentially a do-or-die moment for a team that couldn’t risk going down 2-0 in the series before it shifted to Winnipeg.
But several key players stepped up in the moment. Stephenson scored the game-winner just under six minutes in, and Stone – who assisted on Stephenson’s goal – followed it up with two tallies of his own.
“I don’t want to miss this.”
That has been Stone’s refrain since it was confirmed that he’d be in the lineup for Game 1. He was emotional about his injury but was eager to return and go to battle with his teammates. There were concerns about his readiness after a rough outing in Game 1; some even doubted whether he belonged in the lineup.
But he made a statement as a player and especially as a leader in Game 2. Stone was back, and so were the Golden Knights.
That should give Vegas confidence as it approaches the next two games in enemy territory. But that doesn’t mean the Jets won’t be equally motivated to up the ante.
Will Winnipeg come out flying and overwhelm the Golden Knights early? Will Vegas simplify its game and deliver a solid road performance to thwart the Jets’ best efforts? Will Brossoit or Connor Hellebuyck steal the show?
It’s playoff hockey; anything can happen.
But here are four things that would help the Golden Knights come away with a 2-1 series lead.
Keys to the game
Weather the storm
The series shifts to Winnipeg for the next two games, which means the atmosphere will be a boost for the Jets. Results in the regular season don’t necessarily translate to the playoffs, but it’s worth noting that at 26-7-8, Vegas finished with the most road wins in the Western Conference and a road points percentage of .732, which trailed only Boston in the league standings. But playoff hockey is a different beast entirely, and the raucous crowd may give the Jets a clear advantage early. Winnipeg has overwhelmed the Golden Knights out of the gate, recording 14 and 17 shots in the first period of Games 1 and 2, respectively. Brossoit has been huge in both, giving up one total goal on 31 shots. However, he’ll face his biggest test today in the ‘Peg. The Golden Knights need to survive the early onslaught with a patient, hard-working and methodical approach, and they need to help Brossoit clear the crease as they did in Game 2. Playing with discipline also will be essential to holding off the Jets’ early push.
Along those lines, scoring the first goal of the game would go a long way. This isn’t a true “key,” as the Golden Knights were able to fight back and win Game 2 despite Adam Lowry’s first-period strike. However, taking a 1-0 lead could help Vegas settle in more quickly, particularly on the road. Vegas went 38-5-3 when scoring first this year and 15-1-1 when scoring first in the final six weeks of the regular season. But the Golden Knights have struggled to chase games all year; doing so on the road in the playoffs against Hellebuyck and a determined Jets team looking to bounce back won’t be any easier. While it’s not a necessity, opening the scoring would be a luxury for Vegas, as the Golden Knights have held a lead for 19:59 out of 120 minutes in this series.
Need for speed
In the second and third periods of Game 2, the Golden Knights were able to inject speed into their game, win the transition battle and regain control of the neutral zone. The Golden Knights are one of the best teams in transition but were unable to generate much in the first four periods of the series. Once that changed, Vegas made the Jets look like a completely different team; gone was the smothering juggernaut, replaced by a talented but mortal force that fell victim to Vegas’ speed game and Stone’s “expressive” outburst. Vegas is at its best when generating chances on the rush and deploying its speed in all three zones, and it’s something the Golden Knights need to emphasize moving forward. When the Jets had easy exits, clogged up the neutral zone and took away Vegas’ speed, the Golden Knights looked like a hesitant AHL squad that happened to show up to an NHL playoff game. Vegas can’t go back to that.
The Golden Knights had 25 shots on goal through the first four periods of this series; in the last two, they generated 31. In the first four periods of the series, Vegas scored one goal; the Golden Knights lit the lamp five times in the last 40 minutes of action. While Hellebuyck is one of the best goalies in the world, the Golden Knights can only beat him if they test him. This goes hand in hand with winning the transition game, but if rush chances are not available, the Golden Knights need to be more aggressive in beating the Jets defenseman to dump-ins, driving to the net and going to the dirty areas. They need to get bodies in front and take away Hellebuyck’s eyes. They need to fight for pucks, win races to rebounds and capitalize on every opportunity that presents itself. Vegas’ forecheck was lacking in Game 1 but showe improvement in the latter stages of Game 2. Especially in a road matchup in which Winnipeg has last change, the Golden Knights need to vary their approach but maintain a consistent source of pressure. Relentlessness will be of paramount importance.
Follow the leader
The intensity with which Stone plays the game is infectious. His “expressive” celebrations are contagious, his work ethic and two-way ability raise the bar, and his determination sets the tone. The Golden Knights lacked intensity in a stunning 5-1 loss in Game 1; intensity is not something this team can afford to leave behind. Stone, a native of Winnipeg, is sure to be fired up for this game; his teammates need to follow his example.
The Golden Knights’ win in Game 2 made this a best-of-five series, but three of those five games will take place in Winnipeg. The Golden Knights have to take things one period at a time and one game at a time. In an ideal world, the Golden Knights would win the next two games; in a more realistic/reasonable world, Vegas should aim to come away with at least one.
Ivan Barbashev – Jack Eichel – Jonathan Marchessault
Reilly Smith – William Karlsson – Phil Kessel
Michael Amadio – Chandler Stephenson – Mark Stone
Brett Howden – Nicolas Roy – Keegan Kolesar
Alec Martinez – Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb – Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague – Zach Whitecloud
Kyle Connor – Pierre-Luc DuBois – Mark Scheifele
Nikolaj Ehlers – Vladislav Namestnikov – Blake Wheeler
Nino Niederreiter – Adam Lowry – Mason Appleton
Morgan Barron – Kevin Stenlund – Saku Maenalanen
Josh Morrissey – Dylan DeMelo
Brenden Dillon – Neal Pionk
Dylan Samberg – Nate Schmidt
How to watch
Game 3: Golden Knights at Jets
When: 1 p.m. PT
Where: Canada Life Centre – Winnipeg, MB
TV: TBS, AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM