Wild at Golden Knights — Game 5 Preview: Vegas looks to close out first-round series at home

The Knights have won three straight games but have the all-important fourth to attain.

The Vegas Golden Knights and Minnesota Wild return to T-Mobile Arena Monday night for Game 5 of the first-round best-of-seven series.

After the teams split the first two games in Vegas, it felt like a lofty goal for the Knights to do the same in Minnesota.

However, the Knights came away with two victories despite never having defeated the Wild in regulation in Minnesota prior to Game 3.

The Knights now hold a commanding 3-1 series lead and will look to close out the series tonight on home ice in front of the largest Vegas crowd of the season.

This series is far from over, though.

As the Knights know all too well, 3-1 series leads are not always a sure bet. But especially because of what happened in 2019, the Knights should know how important it is to get the all-important fourth win tonight. The Knights want to avoid going back to Minnesota with a 3-2 series lead and giving the Wild a chance to even things up for an anything-can-happen Game 7 situation.

This is especially true since the Colorado Avalanche wrapped up their first-round series against St. Louis yesterday afternoon (though completing the sweep means that Nazem Kadri won’t be an option for the Avs for the next six games).

Just like it was in Game 5 against Winnipeg back in 2018, tonight is the night for Vegas to take care of business.

If the Knights play the way they played in Minnesota, that won’t be an unreachable goal.

Surprisingly, Pete DeBoer has out-coached Dean Evason, who likely will be in consideration for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year. It helps having Marc-Andre Fleury in net, but this has been by far his best stretch as coach of the Golden Knights.

But the true coaching hero of the series is Dave Rogowski, Vegas’ video coach, who has helped the Knights challenge two potentially series-altering goals, both scored by Joel Eriksson Ek.

In each of the last two games, the Knights issued a successful challenge that ultimately changed the course of the game. It’s unlikely to happen a third time, and it’s not something the Knights want to rely on moving forward. However, Rogowski’s judgment has been critical. It certainly helps DeBoer make the final decision knowing that he has the league-best penalty kill in case things don’t go according to plan, but Rogowski deserves tremendous praise.

That being said, no one has played a larger role in this series than Marc-Andre Fleury, who has taken his play to another level. Reminiscent of his dominance in the Knights’ inaugural season, Fleury’s play has been sensational through four games. He has given up just four goals in four games and is currently riding a .966 save percentage with a 0.99 goals-against average.

Fleury’s Game 4 shutout, the 16th of his career, moved him into a tie with Curtis Joseph for third on the all-time playoff shutout list. Fleury has stopped 112 of 116 shots, though more than half (65) of those came in the two games played in Vegas.

The Wild will be desperate in an elimination game, so Fleury will have to be at his best.

The same is true of every person in the Golden Knights lineup.

Here’s what to watch for in tonight’s Game 5 matchup.

What to watch for

  • Regardless of whether Max Pacioretty is in the lineup or misses his 11th straight game, Mark Stone and Alex Tuch need to continue to lead the way for the Golden Knights. Both have three goals in the series, and Stone leads all Knights skaters with four points. Stone got off to a slow start but jump-started Vegas’ offense with his second-period strike in Game 3, and his shorthanded breakaway goal in Game 4 put the game away for the Knights at a critical moment in the game. Tuch’s speed and size make him a true X Factor, as he demonstrated with his breakaway goal in Game 4. He tore through the neutral zone and right through the Minnesota defensemen en route to a gorgeous backhand-forehand move that fooled Talbot (Stone used a similar move on his breakaway goal in Game 4). But Tuch and Stone have played significant roles in each of Vegas’ three wins in this series, as Tuch scored the insurance tally in Game 2 at the end of the second period and added the dagger at the end of the third on the power play. These two have their hands all over this series, and their efforts have been crucial for Vegas.
  • That being said, the Golden Knights have gotten production from throughout the lineup, which has been key, particularly going up against a very deep Minnesota club that has rolled four lines all season. In fact, all but five Golden Knights who have played at least one game in this series have recorded at least one point. The only exceptions are Ryan Reaves, Alec Martinez, Nicolas Hague (three games), Tomas Nosek (two games) and (surprisingly) Shea Theodore. Even so, guys like Martinez and Theodore have played key roles for the Knights, so everyone is chipping in. That needs to continue tonight and moving forward, whether that’s in a Game 6 against Minnesota or in Game 1 against Colorado. The fact that every line and every defensive pairing has found the scoresheet in four games says a lot about the team-wide effort being exhibited. That’s what wins games at this time of year, and it’s something the Knights needed more of last year.
  • The Knights need to continue to drive play in the neutral zone. Neutral zone dominance was a huge factor in Game 4, as it played a role in the Knights scoring the first two goals of the game and also shut down Minnesota’s offensive surge later on when Vegas was sitting on a 3-0 lead. Nicolas Roy kicked off the scoring but not before completing a mini give-and-go with Keegan Kolesar in the neutral zone. This created space and opened a lane for Roy to have an unimpeded scoring chance on Cam Talbot. Tuch’s goal, which made it 2-0 just over nine minutes into the second period, was set up by two neutral zone passes. The first was off the stick of Zach Whitecloud, who set the play up on Vegas’ blue line, and the second was a touch drop pass by Chandler Stephenson. It was a subtle play but actually a pivotal one in helping Vegas take command of the game. Much like Minnesota did to Vegas (especially earlier in the series), the Knights clogged up the neutral zone in Game 4, broke up passing lanes and made zone entries difficult on the Wild. Not only is that frustrating for an opposing team, but it’s tiring. Goals are scored and given up at both ends of the ice, but games can be won in the neutral zone, and it could play a role in the outcome of tonight’s contest.
  • The Golden Knights have had a tough time on the power play all season, but that doesn’t mean special teams haven’t played a key role in this series. The Golden Knights’ penalty kill was the best in the NHL in the regular season, and it certainly has not disappointed in this series. Not only is Vegas’ penalty kill stifling other teams’ power plays, but it also sets up great scoring chances and becomes an offensive threat (more so than the actual power play). The penalty kill prevents the other team from gaining momentum, keeps the score as it is if someone takes a penalty (whether it’s necessary or undisciplined), gives the coaching staff the confidence needed to issue challenges in tight games and steals momentum by turning a disadvantage into an advantage. It has been the best part of Vegas’ game all season, and aside from the play of Fleury, it arguably has been the star of this series as well./

How to watch

Time: 7:30 p.m.

TV: CNBC, ATT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM