Golden Knights rely on depth to top Oilers 6-4 in Game 1 despite Draisaitl's four-goal night
The Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers kicked off their highly-anticipated second-round series Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena, and Game 1 did not disappoint.
The teams combined for 10 goals, five in each of the first and third periods.
The Golden Knights came away with a 6-4 victory and lead the best-of-seven series 1-0.
Eleven different Vegas skaters found the scoresheet on a night when Leon Draisaitl scored all four of Edmonton's tallies, two of which came on the power play. He and Connor McDavid combined for six points.
Chandler Stephenson's team-leading fifth goal at 3:26 of the third period proved to be the game-winner in the barn-burner clash between division rivals.
Edmonton scored two goals on the power play, though Ivan Barbashev answered both within 61 seconds. Jack Eichel had the last word, stripping McDavid of the puck and sealing the win with an empty-net goal with 34 seconds left in the third.
Laurent Brossoit stopped 23 of 27 shots for an .852 save percentage and his fifth consecutive playoff win. Oilers netminder Stuart Skinner gave up five goals on 33 shots (.848).
It took just 2:43 for the Golden Knights to take a penalty, but Edmonton's lethal man-advantage found itself on the ice early in the first period.
Though the penalty kill had a promising start, Vegas fell victim to the McDavid-Draisaitl combination, which connected on a one-timer from the right circle to open the scoring for the Oilers just under four minutes into the series.
However, Vegas responded just 40 seconds later, as Barbashev's forecheck forced a turnover and led to his second of the playoffs.
The Golden Knights added another 5-on-5 tally just 5:18 later to take their first lead of the series. William Karlsson's cross-ice feed in transition set up Michael Amadio, who beat Skinner short-side.
The Golden Knights scored their third straight goal and first on the power play when Mark Stone deflected a gorgeous shot-pass from Reilly Smith to give Vegas a two-goal lead at 18:23.
Vegas outplayed the Oilers for most of the frame, but Edmonton's late push in the final 90 seconds led to Draisaitl's second of the contest. From behind the goal line, Draisaitl flipped the puck and banked it in off Brossoit to make it 3-2 after one.
Both teams went 1-for-1 on the power play; the shots were 14-8, though the Oilers recorded five of those eight shots in the final 1:20. Vegas held a 6-1 edge in high-danger chances and owned 70 percent of the expected goal share.
The Golden Knights continued their strong defensive play in the second period, restraining Edmonton's offense in a scoreless frame. The Golden Knights' strong play at the blue lines was a key factor in slowing down the visitors.
Vegas secured just over 68 percent of the expected goal share and surrendered just one high-danger chance for the second period in a row.
At the tail end of the frame, however, Alex Pietrangelo took a penalty for roughing, setting up an Oilers power play to start the third.
The Oilers capitalized on that opportunity for their second power-play goal of the night, evening the score at 3-3 just 1:35 into the third. It was Draisaitl once again, as he completed the hat trick thanks to a strong net-front play by Zach Hyman.
However, Barbashev answered the call once again, restoring Vegas' lead just 1:01 later on a deflection goal in front. Zach Whitecloud took the shot and earned his second helper of the night.
Stephenson followed suit 50 seconds later, scoring his first of the series and fifth of the postseason to give Vegas a 5-3 lead less than two minutes after yielding the equalizer.
It was another goal scored in transition as the Golden Knights capitalized on an ill-advised line change by Edmonton. Stone fed Stephenson for the one-timer to give the Golden Knights their second two-goal lead of the contest at 3:26 of the third.
But the Oilers responded 5:07 later with their own goal scored on the rush, as McDavid hit the trailing Draisaitl for his fourth of the game and 11th of the postseason.
Edmonton continued to pour on the pressure and finally started to break down Vegas' defense at the blue lines, gaining entry into the zone with ease and preventing Vegas from exiting cleanly.
But with the game on the line, Vegas had its most impressive stretch of the night, stalling the Oilers at the blue line nearly 10 times to prevent Skinner from heading to the bench for the extra attacker. The resulting confusion led to a too-many-men penalty on the Oilers with just 1:03 remaining.
Edmonton called timeout and pulled Skinner to set up a 5-on-5 matchup for the final minute of regulation, but Eichel came through with a dandy of a play, stripping McDavid of the puck and sending it down the ice into the empty net to secure the 6-4 victory with his second point of the game.
Aside from Edmonton's late push, the Golden Knights largely dominated the Oilers at 5-on-5, winning board battles, maintaining control of the neutral zone and preventing the Oilers' transition offense from creating many chances. In fact, Vegas held Edmonton to just one high-danger chance at 5-on-5 and two total through 40 minutes.
The Oilers followed that up with eight in the third period, outshooting Vegas 12-8 and leading 30-13 in shot attempts. The Oilers also led 16-6 in scoring chances and owned 58.34 percent of the expected goal share in what was by far their best period of the night.
But it wasn't enough to overcome Vegas' balanced attack and defensive effort. The Golden Knights were far from perfect, but they outscored the Oilers 4-2 at 5-on-5 and kept Edmonton's offense in check, limiting McDavid to four shots.
"I thought we did have defensive success," Bruce Cassidy said after the game. "I didn't think it was a barrage. They had a real good push in the third where we got on our heels a little bit; you cannot do that against this team. ... But I liked our defensive performance."
The fact that it was a one-goal contest for most of the third period shows just how potent Edmonton's quick-strike offense is and how little room there is for error.
Had the Oilers been given an opportunity to set up in the offensive zone in the final minutes of the third, this game could have been destined for overtime. Even when Vegas played well defensively, the Oilers still managed to move the puck quickly and skillfully enough to find the back of the net.
But depth was a key advantage for the Golden Knights coming into the series, and it made a difference in Game 1. Vegas got points from 11 different players; Edmonton got points from five.
The only top-nine forward for Vegas who didn't find the scoresheet was Marchessault, though he had two glorious opportunities and was robbed by Skinner on both; he is still looking for his first of the playoffs, but his line was Vegas' best on the night, leading 15-10 in Corsi, 10-3 in shots and 1-0 in goals with a 71.34 percent expected goal share in 11:01.
The Oilers' best player by a mile, who was responsible for all four goals, wasn't phased.
"It's nothing they did," Draisaitl said. "They're a good team. We know that. But nothing that we can't handle or haven't seen. This is just on us not bringing our best game."
Discipline was an issue. Even though Vegas took three penalties, two of them led to goals, both of which came early in a period. Usually, that's a momentum-killer the Golden Knights can't afford to entertain.
Enter Ivan Barbashev.
Barbashev came up with massive goals 40 and 61 seconds after the Oilers' power-play tallies to steal back momentum and energize the home crowd. It also meant that Vegas trailed the Oilers for just 40 seconds in a 60-minute game.
But now that Edmonton is clicking at 57.9 percent on the man-advantage in the playoffs, the Golden Knights have to do more to stay out of the box in Game 2 on Saturday.
Statistics courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.