There are things in the hockey world we’re not meant to understand. One of those might be the Vegas Golden Knights in the third period.
For the second consecutive game, the Golden Knights scored at least three goals in the third period in a rallying fashion, defeating the St. Louis Blues 6-4 at Rogers Place in their round robin game on Thursday.
The Golden Knights will play the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday in a winner-take-all matchup with the top seed in the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the line. No matter the result, Vegas can’t finish any worst than No. 2; the Dallas Stars will play the Blues with the loser falling to No. 4.
Vegas scored four goals in its 5-3 win against Dallas on Monday.
“You hope it galvanizes your group,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “At the very least, you can bank that feeling for the future so when we’re in a hole, we know the game’s not over. I think it’s a great thing; two totally different wins in the third period. I thought last game, we didn’t start to play until the third period. This one is a bit more enjoyable from a coach’s view.”
Marc-Andre Fleury made 12 saves on 16 shots in his first start of the postseason. His appearance marked his 14th consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which is the longest active streak among all four professional leagues.
But Fleury’s stat line was apropro of Vegas’ prior two wins against the defending Stanley Cup champions; a lot of shots, a lot of goals for Vegas, but little shots and a lot of goals for the Blues. The Golden Knights outshot St. Louis 38-16, which tells you the kind of afternoon Blues goalie Jordan Binnington had. For 30 minutes, Binnington played the role of a brick wall with no signs of coming down.
Vegas had a 13-5 edge in shots in the first period, but it was the quality of attempts the Knights got that was telling. Vegas had three odd-man rushes, each resulting in quality chances on Binnington. The Knights had a power play highlighted by Alec Martinez hitting iron, getting a follow-up chance that would’ve been a goal had Alex Tuch not jumped in the way.
This is the kind of pressure Vegas drew up after allowing David Perron to score on the first shot of the game. A turnover from Nate Schmidt in the Vegas zone saw the puck find its way to Perron, whose shot deflected off Brayden McNabb’s stick and past Fleury for the ice breaker.
Monday was an aberration for the third line. The trio of Nick Cousins, Nicolas Roy and Alex Tuch combined for one shot while allowing 11 against the Stars. Thursday was a much better outing (5-2), but Tuch had the breakout performance the Golden Knights have been longing for through his injury-plagued season. Tuch scored the game-tying and go-ahead goals in the second period, 2:26 apart, to put Vegas in front 3-2.
“I’m not too worried about being an X-Factor,” Tuch said. “I’m just trying to go out there every game and be a difference maker on every shift.”
The last time Tuch saw the ice before the playoffs, he scored a goal against the Blues and then missed the remainder of the regular season with a lower-body injury. The kind of net-front presence Vegas needs Tuch to be, that’s what it got.
Unfortunately, such momentum went away in 21 seconds when Parayko and Troy Brouwer scored to give St. Louis a 4-3 lead.
About as nightmarish of a scenario as it could be for Fleury.
In weird hockey games, I usually refer to the saying of “hockey is a mythical concept the likes of us are not meant to understand.” That’s what makes playoff hockey so fun; logic goes out the window almost instantly. Why the Golden Knights are having to make third-period comebacks in consecutive games when it happens as often as a full moon is inconceivable. How the Golden Knights become the most dangerous third period this side of the Mississippi is also understandable.
And how the Golden Knights held the Blues to just one shot in 16:05 in the third period also doesn’t make sense. Picture if the Golden Knights played that way for 60 minutes.
“It takes all 20 guys,” Tuch said. “Everyone was going for a full 60 minutes. We kept pushing, getting pucks to the net, and I think it resulted in a win tonight.”
Vegas made it clear offense was the directive in the third. The fourth line got the opening shift and didn’t see the ice until Mark Stone scored the go-ahead goal 12:31 into the frame. Ten minutes prior, Zach Whitecloud notched his first career NHL goal to tie the game.
“I didn’t think we brought much to the table in the first 40 minutes against Dallas,” Stone said. “Tonight, it never felt in doubt. I thought we played as good of a 60 minutes as we could. The only difference is we gave up 4 grade-A chances and they capitalized.”
In that 10-minute span, the Golden Knights dominated the game. A game they wanted to win. A game that has put them in position to claim the top seed in the Western Conference.
“They’re the Stanley Cup champions for a reason,” DeBoer said. “It’s never going to be an easy night. You have to give them credit, and that’s why they’re the defending champs.”