Golden Knights overwhelm Kings early in compelling 5-2 victory to extend division lead
The Vegas Golden Knights scored three goals in 3:13 in the first period of a critical 5-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena.
The new-look third line of Ivan Barbashev, Chandler Stephenson and Phil Kessel accounted for all three goals, giving Vegas a 3-0 lead just over six minutes into the contest. Vegas added another goal on a power play and scored just 62 seconds into the second period to run away with the game, scoring five goals on just 15 shots.
Laurent Brossoit made 30 saves on 32 shots for a .938 save percentage in his third consecutive win.
A major shift in momentum early in the first period ended up being the turning point in this one, as Anze Kopitar's goal was overturned after a successful Vegas challenge for offside. Seconds (28, to be exact) later, Kessel scored on a wraparound, kickstarting Vegas' offensive burst.
The Golden Knights followed it with another goal just 62 seconds later, as Barbashev collected a cross-ice feed from Stephenson and slammed the one-timer past Joonas Korpisalo. Barbashev got wide-open, and Stephenson went tape-to-tape for the second goal of the game.
Just 2:11 later, Stephenson lit the lamp himself to make it 3-0 as all three members of Bruce Cassidy's latest lineup adjustment found twine.
Los Angeles' Zack MacEwan boarded Ben Hutton a few minutes later, and Vegas responded. Nicolas Hague jumped in to defend his teammate, crushing MacEwan in a spirited fight. He took the instigator call, but it sent a message and served as evidence that this Golden Knights team is tight-knit at the most important time of the season.
The Golden Knights capitalized on the ensuing major with a confident play, as Nicolas Roy tipped a crisp Jack Eichel feed into the net at 11:23, giving the Golden Knights a commanding four-goal lead through 20 minutes.
Just 1:02 into the second period, Jonathan Marchessault took advantage of a brutal turnover in Los Angeles' end, firing a laser past Korpisalo to end his night. Korpisalo had given up two or fewer goals in eight consecutive starts prior to Thursday's game in Sin City, where he lasted just 21:02 after making only 10 saves in a 5-0 game.
The Kings responded with a power-play goal 10 minutes later. Once again, it was Kopitar who broke through, giving the Kings some life midway through the contest. The puck hit two Vegas skates before landing on Kopitar's stick.
Los Angeles pulled within three goals when Vladislav Gavrikov forced a turnover at the blue line and skated in on a shorthanded breakaway, beating Brossoit five-hole on the backhand.
The Golden Knights added another tally in the third period, but for the second time in the game, the goal was reversed due to a successful offside challenge, this time by the Kings. Los Angeles continued to push, but the Golden Knights were in control and closed out the win, the club's 49th of the season.
There were a ton of positive takeaways from this game.
For one thing, the Golden Knights came out and made a statement in the first period, scoring four goals in a must-win game. It was an electric start in a critical game with major playoff implications, and the Golden Knights came to win.
But even at 3-0, this game wasn't over.
Given how Vegas' power play has performed of late, the Kings could have killed off the remaining three minutes of the major to swing momentum in their favor. Instead, the Golden Knights were aggressive, and it paid off.
Eichel demonstrated a clear willingness to shoot, and Alex Pietrangelo provided a stabilizing presence at the point, moving pucks quickly and directing pucks towards the net. The Golden Knights were decisive, confident and sharp, executing to perfection on Roy's 14th of the season.
Even so, the Kings had 40 minutes with which to work, and Los Angeles could have come out firing in the second period.
Instead, the Golden Knights added to their lead, chasing Korpisalo and putting the game out of reach.
Even at that point, the Golden Knights never sat back and took themselves out of the game. They never trailed, they pushed the entire night and they got contributions from up and down the lineup to inch closer to clinching the Pacific Division and home-ice advantage through at least the first round.
Additionally, though this game was decided early, Brossoit still delivered another solid performance. The Kings finished the game with 32 shots, and the two goals Brossoit surrendered were hardly soft. He gave up a shorthanded breakaway goal as well as a power-play goal coming off a double-deflection off his own teammates' skates. He stopped all 29 shots he faced at even strength and moves to 5-0-3 in nine appearances this year.
Further, Hague's fight wasn't just impressive in the moment. There was no hesitation on his part to stick up for Hutton, and he destroyed MacEwan in the brawl. Usually, big hits or fights in a three-goal game tend to benefit the team that's behind. In this case, since Hague's fight was so one-sided, it only added to Vegas' surge both on the ice and in the building. MacEwan threw that hit to try to energize his team. It backfired, and Vegas didn't look back.
Plus, it was a bold performance by Stephenson, who looked more like the Stephenson of old. He was all over the ice, setting up one-timers, scoring five-hole and being effective in all three zones. That's the version of Stephenson the Golden Knights need in the playoffs.
The Golden Knights have three games remaining in the regular season with a three-point lead over Edmonton and a six-point lead over the Kings. The four-point swing essentially takes the Kings out of the running for the division, though it is still mathematically possible.
Next up for the Golden Knights is a road game against Pete DeBoer and the Dallas Stars, followed by a home-and-home against Seattle, which clinched its first playoff berth in franchise history on Thursday.
Regardless of how the remaining three games unfold, this was the kind of win that Vegas has been working towards all season, and it's a model for what the Golden Knights need to bring in the second season.