The Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers competed in what proved to be the closest game of their best-of-seven second-round series Friday night at T-Mobile Arena. It was the first game decided by one goal and featured some of the biggest momentum shifts in the series, but in the end, the Golden Knights were victorious, securing a 4-3 win in a pivotal Game 5 matchup.
It was the ultimate battle of special teams, and the Golden Knights came out on top.
Vegas went 0-for-3 on the power play and 0-for-2 on the penalty kill in the first period, but the Golden Knights changed their fortunes with three goals in the span of 1:29 in the second period, including back-to-back tallies on the power play. The key turning point of the game, however, was when the Vegas penalty kill gave up just one goal on a five-minute major, 4:37 of which was played at the start of the third period. Holding the NHL’s best power play to one goal was critical, and it helped the Golden Knights retain the lead and take Game 5.
Jack Eichel had his third three-point game of the postseason, Adin Hill stopped 32 of 35 shots (.914 save percentage) and Reilly Smith scored his first of the playoffs in the team-wide effort.
The Golden Knights will take a 3-2 series lead into Sunday’s Game 6 matchup in Edmonton.
Special teams was the story of the first period.
The Oilers scored first for the fifth time this series when Connor McDavid lit the lamp at the tail end of an Edmonton power play. The Golden Knights did a sound job keeping the Oilers to the perimeter for most of the man-advantage, but it didn’t take much for the Oilers to capitalize and grab a lead 3:02 into the contest.
It was the first of two power-play goals for the Oilers in the first period.
However, they were separated by an Eichel response goal, which came just 50 seconds after McDavid opened the scoring.
It was the third game in which the Golden Knights responded to an Oilers goal within two minutes, and it was the fourth time Vegas’ top line was responsible.
Eichel scored on the rebound in front to make it 1-1 less than four minutes into the frame.
However, an undisciplined penalty by Nicolas Hague put Edmonton back in the lead. This time, it was Zach Hyman who scored from the back door, giving Edmonton two power-play goals in the first 10 minutes of the game.
The Golden Knights had three power plays of their own, including one after an unsuccessful challenge by Edmonton on the Eichel goal. Though the power play generated chances, the Golden Knights went 0-for-3 in the opening frame, much like they did in the second period of Game 4.
But the second period of Game 5 was different.
Once again, special teams was the story of the period.
Despite Edmonton starting to take over the game, Eichel’s strong play continued in the middle frame. With just over seven minutes remaining, that strong play led to a fourth power play for the Golden Knights. Vegas then drew another penalty, setting up a 5-on-3 for 1:16.
The Golden Knights absolutely had to score on the power play; this time, they did.
First, it was Mark Stone who scored on a jam play to make it 2-2 with 5:55 remaining.
Then, just 29 seconds later, Smith scored his first of the playoffs to put Vegas ahead 3-2.
The Golden Knights scored two power-play goals in under 30 seconds after an 0-for-14 stretch.
But the scoring didn’t stop there.
Vegas added to its lead when Hague launched a Haguerbomb from downtown, beating Stuart Skinner through a double screen.
Eichel kept the play alive below the goal line and then sent a bank pass to Hague at the point for what proved to be the game-winner.
The assist was Eichel’s third point of the game for his second three-point game of the series. Aside from an undisciplined retaliatory penalty in the third period, Eichel was truly outstanding in Game 5.
The Golden Knights scored three goals in 1:29 to chase Skinner, who was pulled in favor of Jack Campbell as the Oilers tried to change things up.
Vegas had all of the momentum.
But a terrible decision by Keegan Kolesar with just 24 seconds remaining in the period threatened to change all of that.
Kolesar committed a dangerous and completely unnecessary penalty, boarding Mattias Ekholm to set up a five-minute major for the league’s best power play.
The Oilers entered the third period with 4:37 remaining on that major, trailing by two goals.
Not surprisingly, special teams was the story of the third period as well.
Ekholm, who left the ice following the hit from Kolesar (which resulted in a game misconduct in addition to the major), was back on the bench to start the third.
This is where the Golden Knights made their biggest stand.
The Golden Knights held the Oilers’ power play to just one goal on the major; aside from a strong individual effort by McDavid after getting some help from the official in the neutral zone, the Vegas penalty kill came through with a monster effort.
McDavid’s second power-play of the game made it a one-goal game 2:40 into the third, but the Golden Knights killed off the rest of the major. Alec Martinez came up with clutch blocks, Smith had a few big clears and Hill made several key saves, including one on a point shot by Evan Bouchard and another on the follow-up by Leon Draisaitl.
The Golden Knights got a four-minute power play after Ben Hutton took a stick up high, but Eichel’s retaliatory penalty negated two minutes of that. Near the end of the man-advantage, the Golden Knights caught a break as Edmonton hit the post. Vegas had a few prime scoring chances, but Campbell made a few huge saves to keep it a one-goal game through the end of the power play, which wrapped up with eight minutes remaining in the third.
The Golden Knights had a glorious chance when William Karlsson broke in alone, but an impressive defensive play by McDavid to strip the puck prevented Karlsson from getting a shot off.
However, Karlsson later teamed up with Smith and Stone on an exceptional extended shift in the final minutes of the third. The trio ate up nearly two minutes on the clock, cycling in the offensive zone and keeping the puck in Edmonton’s end. Stone made a great steal from behind to keep the shift going, leaving roughly two minutes for the Oilers’ final push.
With Campbell on the bench, the Oilers set up for the 6-on-5, but Vegas got in shooting lanes and kept Edmonton to the perimeter. The Golden Knights iced it with a minute to go, but a final defensive stand helped them hold on to the one-goal lead to close out the win.
It was the closest game of the series and the first time that both teams were competitive throughout the contest. It also marked the first time in the series that the team leading after the first period did not win. Vegas trailed 2-1 after one but took a 4-2 lead into the third period.
That turnaround was a stunning turn of events, and though Kolesar’s thoughtless and dangerous play put Vegas’ chances at risk, the Golden Knights played well and, as they have all year, found a way to win.
It was a stellar night for Eichel, who was fantastic offensively and defensively. He scored a huge goal to break up Edmonton’s early momentum, earned the primary assist on Stone’s equalizer in the second period and then set up the game-winning goal less than two minutes later.
He also played well defensively, and the Golden Knights’ top line was its most effective. Eichel, Ivan Barbashev and Jonathan Marchessault held an 8-3 edge in Corsi, 4-1 lead in shots, outscored Edmonton 2-0 and earned 86.48 percent of the expected goal share in 6:36. All three found the scoresheet, combining for seven points on the night.
Discipline was an issue for Vegas once again, though it was for the Oilers as well. The Vegas power play finally cashed in and converted on two huge goals that changed the game, and the penalty kill was impressive in the third period. It’s difficult to not deem that penalty kill a success, all things considered, despite the goal against.
The Golden Knights were without Alex Pietrangelo, but the defense stepped up and won by committee. Though McDavid scored two goals, the Golden Knights were perfect at 5-on-5 and Draisaitl to zero points.
Though the Oilers had nearly five minutes of power-play time in the third and were desperate to even things up, Edmonton led Vegas by just three shots (12-9) in the final frame, and the Golden Knights were the better team at 5-on-5 when it mattered most.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Vegas held narrow leads in Corsi (7-5), scoring chances (4-2) and high-danger Corsi (2-1) at 5-on-5 in the third. Though things were relatively even, it illustrates that the Golden Knights played hard in the third period instead of sitting back.
As a result, the Golden Knights are one win from advancing to the third round of the playoffs for the fourth time in franchise history. Vegas will have two chances to earn that fourth win, which is the hardest win to come by.