Jets dominate on the road in 5-1 win against Golden Knights to take 1-0 series lead

Jets dominate on the road in 5-1 win against Golden Knights to take 1-0 series lead

The Vegas Golden Knights were completely outplayed in a lopsided 5-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets in Game 1 of the first-round series Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena.

Winnipeg scored twice in 62 seconds early in the second period and had all the momentum until Vegas finally broke through late in the frame. However, it would prove to be Vegas' only goal of the night. The Jets scored less than four minutes into the third period and added two late goals to seal the win, holding the Golden Knights to just two shots in the final frame.

Vegas finished the game with a season-low 17 shots on goal and went 0-for-3 on the power play, with two of those failed power plays coming at critical moments in the game.

Laurent Brossoit stopped 26 of 30 shots for an .867 save percentage; at the other end of the ice, Connor Hellebuyck was barely tested and came away with 16 saves and a .941 save percentage.

First period

The Jets came out with a solid road period in the opening frame, leading 14-8 in shots and 32-18 (64 percent) in Corsi at all strengths. Winnipeg also held a 4-1 edge in high-danger chances at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The Jets came incredibly close to opening the scoring on a wild sequence that looked like a sure goal for Winnipeg. However, Brayden McNabb got a stick on the puck, and Brossoit dove on the pile of bodies in the crease, coming away with the puck before it crossed the goal line.

Winnipeg went on to have back-to-back power-play opportunities, as Zach Whitecloud was called for slashing with five seconds remaining on Shea Thedoore's initial hooking penalty.

It could have spelled disaster for the Golden Knights early, but the Vegas penalty kill came up clutch with two massive kills featuring several key blocks to keep the Jets off the board. In the end, Vegas blocked a total of 13 shots in a scoreless opening 20 minutes of action.

Second period

But it wouldn't be long before that scoreless tie was broken.

In fact, the Jets scored two goals in the span of just 62 seconds less than three minutes into the middle frame to take a 2-0 lead in the blink of an eye.

First, Kyle Connor scored on a one-timer from the slot off a centering feed from Pierre-Luc DuBois.

The Jets' top line proceeded to strike once again, as a sloppy shift by Vegas led to a turnover in the neutral zone. DuBois caught Vegas on a line change and flew up the ice, beating Brossoit short-side to double Winnipeg's lead at 2:26 of the second.

Even though Vegas had a power play less than two minutes after DuBois' goal, the Golden Knights were unable to generate much of anything throughout the second period. With the lead, Winnipeg began to clog the neutral zone, preventing Vegas from getting to the inside. Winnipeg's stifling defense gave the Golden Knights fits for most of the night.

With eight minutes remaining, Bruce Cassidy made his first line changes, reuniting the Misfit Line for the first time in months as well as putting Jack Eichel with Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson. It paid off, at least in the short term.

It felt like the Golden Knights were spinning their wheels in front of a silent home crowd, but as has been the case all year, Vegas capitalized on a chance on the rush and made it a one-goal game.

It was William Karlsson who broke the ice with the first Golden Knights goal of the 2023 postseason.

Jonathan Marchessault sent a stretch pass to Ivan Barbashev, who waited patiently at the blue line while Karlsson sped through the middle of the ice. Barbashev sent a saucer feed to the breaking Karlsson, who beat Hellebuyck with a perfectly-placed shot to bring Vegas within one.

The Golden Knights got a power play shortly after lighting the lamp, but it was a glaringly ineffective man-advantage at the end of the frame.

Even so, Vegas came away with momentum heading into the third.

Third period

That momentum didn't last long, though.

Just under four minutes into the frame, the Jets reestablished their two-goal lead when Blake Wheeler scored on a deceptive backhand to make it a 3-1 game.

Winnipeg gifted Vegas a power play after getting called for too many men with 5:15 to go, but Golden Knights failed to record a single shot on goal. It was one of the most disjointed power plays the Golden Knights have put together in quite some time, and it was a waste of a golden opportunity to get back in the game.

The Jets' stifling defense in the third period neutralized Vegas' offense, and the Golden Knights were never able to adjust. Vegas had just one shot for most of the frame and finished a critical third period with a total of two shots on goal.

Adam Lowry added an empty-net goal with 1:21 and a late power-play tally in the final 19 seconds to cap off a dominant 5-1 performance by the Jets.

The Golden Knights faced a competitive, hard-working and opportunistic Jets team and came up short in almost every aspect of the game.

It was a surprising result given how well Vegas played down the stretch. The Golden Knights won meaningful games and showed up in big moments in the final 31 games of the regular season; they got complete efforts with contributions from up and down the lineup, lights-out goaltending and statement performances.

None of that was the case in Game 1.

To be fair, the Jets were playing some of their best hockey at the end of the season, and while they made the playoffs as the second wildcard team, they were a top contender in the first half of the year. Plus, this series is a much closer matchup than a No. 1 seed against a No. 8 seed.

But one team outclassed the other on Tuesday, and the Golden Knights failed to step up when turning points presented themselves. Execution and puck management were nowhere to be found, and the Golden Knights strayed too far from their game.

The third period was particularly concerning.

Despite getting outplayed through 40 minutes, Vegas trailed by just one goal at the start of the third and had momentum following Karlsson's goal. But in the third period, the Golden Knights had nothing.

Even at 3-1, the Golden Knights got a power play with 5:15 remaining. But Vegas had nothing.

The Golden Knights had a few dominant third periods during their 22-4-5 stretch at the end of the regular season, but in Game 1, they were on the other end of such an effort. Winnipeg managed a 79.25 percent expected goal share and led 9-5 in scoring chances at 5-on-5 and 10-2 in shots.

The Jets didn't make dazzling, jaw-dropping plays but simply outworked, outhustled and outplayed the Golden Knights every step of the way.

Most significantly, the Jets made a statement, took back home-ice advantage and silenced the Golden Knights' offense and home crowd without relying on their most important player in Hellebuyck.

Hellebuyck wasn't forced to make 40 saves and didn't have to steal the game. The Golden Knights never played with a sense of urgency and essentially gave him the night off.

"It's playoff hockey," Cassidy said after the game. "You need an intensity level that was greater than the one we had."

That's an understatement.

In his first career playoff game, Eichel failed to make an impact and was on the ice for multiple goals against. He led the team in individual Corsi (8) but did not demonstrate any of the elite skill and game-breaking ability he possesses.

The Jets were without a top-six forward in Nikolaj Ehlers but still got stellar performances from the top half of their lineup, which had undergone a dry spell at the end of the season.

Stone returned to the lineup for the first time since Jan. 12 but still managed to lead all Vegas forwards in ice time, finishing the game with one hit, one block, two takeaways and a minus-three rating in 21:28.

Reilly Smith led the team with five shots on goal, while Alex Pietrangelo, Marchessault, Stone, Stephenson and Barbashev failed to record one.

The only lines that finished with Corsi shares above 50 percent were the reunited Misfit Line as well as two-thirds of the Misfits (Karlsson and Smith) plus Phil Kessel, which led 6-2 in shot attempts in 3:46. The Misfit Line had an 83.33 percent Corsi share (5-1) in 5:31, while every other combination finished below 40 percent.

Also, this marked Brossoit's first regulation loss of the year. While the loss was not on him, he didn't have a particularly strong night against his former team.

He stopped all 14 shots in the first period despite having a few shaky moments behind the net, and he did keep Vegas in the game for most of the night. It was his teammates who did not deliver.

Vegas finished the game with just 17 shots on goal, which was the Golden Knights' lowest total of the entire season. The Golden Knights had one shot through the first 17:17 of the third period and two in the entire frame. That's not enough in any playoff game, but it's especially problematic against one of the best goalies in the NHL.

Additionally, the power play was a back-breaker for the Golden Knights, who had glorious opportunities at the end of the second period and late in the third but didn't come close to finding twine.

The Jets deserve credit for a hard-fought win, but this was one of the Golden Knights' worst efforts of the season.

However, this is a seven-game series, and the Golden Knights somehow remained within reach for most of the night despite playing so poorly.

But Vegas will need to make widespread adjustments ahead of Game 2, which is set for Thursday night.