Golden Knights ride dominant start to 4-1 win, eliminate Jets in five games

Golden Knights ride dominant start to 4-1 win, eliminate Jets in five games

The Vegas Golden Knights advanced to the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a decisive 4-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena.

The Golden Knights played the best 40 minutes of their season en route to their fourth consecutive win to close out the best-of-seven first-round matchup. Vegas scored three goals in the first half of the second period to take a 4-0 lead; Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson combined for three goals and five points on the night.

Laurent Brossoit made 30 saves on 31 shots for a .968 save percentage in an elimination game against his former team; it marked the first playoff series win of his career.

First period

The Golden Knights were without Shea Theodore (illness) and Brayden McNabb, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, which paved the way for Ben Hutton and Brayden Pachal to make their playoff debuts. William Carrier returned to the lineup and was reunited with former linemates Nicolas Roy and Keegan Kolesar on the fourth line; Phil Kessel was a healthy scratch for the first time since 2009.

But regardless of who was on the ice, the Golden Knights were in control.

Vegas came out flying, and Stephenson cashed in just 50 seconds into the contest off a great feed from Stone. It started off with a strong keep at the blue line by Stone, who teamed up with Brett Howden on a give-and-go before finding Stephenson on the side of a yawning cage.

Vegas outshot Winnipeg 8-5 but was completely dominant throughout the opening frame, taking a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.

Second period

For the second period in a row, the Golden Knights scored less than a minute in. This time, it was Stone who made a stellar play before beating Connor Hellebuyck from the slot.

Stone made contact with the airborne puck to knock it to his glove before dropping it to his stick, finding twine just 42 seconds into the middle frame to make it a 2-0 game.

William Karlsson scored less than four minutes later to give Vegas a 3-0 lead less than five minutes in. Michael Amadio collected a puck that deflected off a Winnipeg skate and quickly shoveled it over to Karlsson for the backdoor tap-in. Amadio showed no hesitation and sent the backhand feed through three Jets defenders.

The Jets had a great chance that threatened to make it a two-goal game, but Brossoit came up with a huge stop on Adam Lowry to keep Winnipeg off the board.

The Golden Knights got their second power play of the game and needed less than 10 seconds to capitalize. Stephenson added his second of the game on a tic-tac-toe passing play, as Jack Eichel fed Stone by the goal line before Stone set up Stephenson in the bumper position.

It was Stephenson's second point of the game, giving him multi-point efforts in four consecutive games. He joins Max Pacioretty as the only players in franchise history to accomplish that feat.

Despite taking a four-goal lead less than midway through the second period, the Golden Knights continued to pour on the pressure and worked diligently to prevent Winnipeg from getting anything going.

The Jets managed nine shots but were kept to the perimeter by the Golden Knights' relentless effort on both sides of the puck, which saw the club own a 79.63 percent expected goal share and a 15-3 edge in high-danger chances through 40 minutes.

Third period

It was do-or-die for the Jets in the third period.

The Golden Knights continued to play a disciplined, structured game through the first 11 minutes of the frame, holding the Jets to four shots. Winnipeg, which was held without a power play in the game, pulled Hellebuyck with 8:18 to go to set up an extended 6-on-5 situation.

With their backs against the wall, the Jets made an impressive last stand.

Winnipeg scored with 5:38 remaining to make it 4-1, as Kyle Connor redirected a centering feed in front of the net.

Winnipeg continued to push and eventually scored again, as Pierre-Luc DuBois scored off a rebound to make it 4-2 with 2:35 to go.

However, the Golden Knights challenged for a missed stoppage on a hand pass; Blake Wheeler swept the puck through his legs right off a faceoff, which typically is a penalty. It looked as though Stephenson may have been the one to touch the puck, but it proved to be a successful challenge by Vegas, resetting the score to 4-1 with 3:12 remaining.

In the end, Winnipeg held a 17-2 lead in shots in the third period, but the Golden Knights had done more than enough to close out the game and the series.

Just like in 2018, Vegas won four straight after dropping Game 1 to eliminate the Jets in five games.

The Golden Knights became the first team to advance to the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs; they will face the winner of the Kings-Oilers series.

The Golden Knights delivered a spectacular effort in the most important game of the season. The stakes were high; despite holding a 3-1 series lead, heading back to Winnipeg for a Game 6 was not something Vegas wanted to risk.

Thanks to all active 19 players in Thursday's game, Vegas won't have to.

The effort was led by the captain, who set the tone early. Very early.

Stone set up the opening goal, finding the wide-open Stephenson for the easy redirect less than a minute in to the elimination game. The Golden Knights were off to the races.

He did the same in the second period, only this time he put it in the back of the net himself.

At 1-0, this game was there for the taking. Stone made no mistake and quickly gave Vegas a cushion, scoring what would prove to be the game-winning and series-clinching goal.

But Vegas wasn't finished.

Another top player on the team came through, as Karlsson added his team-high fourth of the series off a fantastic pass from Amadio.

Even then, the game was far from over, and the Jets generated one of their best chances of the night. However, it was time for Brossoit to come through with another critical timely save. He stonewalled Lowry to keep Winnipeg off the scoresheet, and he preserved Vegas' momentum, which had been building since puck drop.

Once again, Vegas wasn't finished.

The Golden Knights scored less than 10 seconds into a power play to make it 4-0, and they finished the second period with an additional 11-plus minutes of hard-working hockey on tilted ice.

To their credit, the Jets made a push in the third period, but it took more than 14 minutes for Winnipeg to light the lamp. Even if the Golden Knights were sitting back, they were protecting a four-goal lead and were playing effective defense, not chasing the puck in their own zone.

But when the Jets made it 4-2 with 2:35 to go, the game was, once again, far from over.

Even then, Vegas challenged the goal and got it overturned. At that point, it seemed as though the wind had been taken out of Winnipeg's sails. The Golden Knights started to press rather than simply clear, and they made a few attempts to get Stephenson the hat trick.

In the end, they were content to close out the win, which they did in surgical fashion.

After the game, Jets coach Rick Bowness did not hold back, saying he was "so disappointed and disgusted" that his team had no pushback. "[Vegas'] better players were so much better than ours, it's not even close," he said. "They deserved to win. They were the better team in the regular season, they were the better team in this series."

As they have done all season, the Golden Knights found a way to win. In Game 5, they did so with precision, making the right plays at the right times and knowing what had to be done to take care of business.

The Golden Knights needed to be disciplined, needed to forecheck, needed to test Hellebuyck and needed to stick to their game. They did all of those things and more.

Vegas held the Jets without a power play, which was key since the Jets had scored at least one in the first four games of the series.

Vegas was relentless on the forecheck and stayed true to its game, executing Bruce Cassidy's gameplan to perfection.

Vegas also tested Hellebuyck. More than that, the Golden Knights made plays that essentially took him out of the equation. He had no chance on two of the four goals and the others were high-quality shots from the slot. The Golden Knights managed to score four-plus goals in four straight games against one of the best goaltenders in the world, and they didn't even give him a chance to steal Game 5.

Vegas capitalized on its opportunities, kept Winnipeg's shot attempts to the perimeter for most of the game and got timely saves from Brossoit, who stopped 16 of 17 in the third period.

The Golden Knights' depth was a factor once again, as Cassidy was able to roll four lines and three pairs. The fact that he changed three of the lines ahead of the game to accommodate Carrier had zero consequences since the entire lineup put forth an impassioned effort.

Also, the pair of Nicolas Hague and Zach Whitecloud stepped up with Theodore and McNabb out of the lineup; Hague led all Vegas blueliners with 26:32, and Whitecloud was third with 21:17.

It wasn't a flawless 60-minute effort, but it was as close to one as Vegas has managed this postseason.

"That's what we do well, is find ways to win," Cassidy said after the game. "What we don't do well at times is stay on our game, and that's up to me to make sure we find solutions to why. But we got a veteran group; I think they know that they let their foot off the gas a little today, but they did what they had to do, blocked a lot of shots, worked hard to keep it out of our net."

Carrier recorded two shots, six hits and a takeaway with a minus-one rating in 9:36 in his first game since early March; he was the only Vegas forward who played fewer than 11 minutes and was one of just three to play fewer than 13, which is rare in an elimination game.

But it was another statement win by the Golden Knights, and ending the series in their first try will give their injured players – a list that now includes Kolesar and Pachal, who both took pucks up high – some extra time to rest.

"Finding ways to win has been a motto for us all year, and I don't think our stats show that we're one of the best teams in any particular category except wins, and that's what you play for."

It was the kind of performance the Golden Knights' entire season has been leading up to, but it's only the exclamation point on part one of what Vegas hopes will be an extended postseason run.