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Knights on Ice — First the Tallest Misfit, Then the Shortest, Then the Captain
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Dateline: Las Vegas, NV
Wednesday, June 9, 2021

 

Did the best team win last night? This question can be answered 2 different ways and both are correct.

Were the VGK the better team last night? The scoreboard says they were. If you watched the entire game, you might believe otherwise. But results count, even if the VGK were dominated for the first 40 minutes of last night’s crucial Game 5. Vegas found a way in their 3-2 overtime win to push the heavily favored Colorado Avalanche to the edge. Now, the Avs must win Games 6 and 7 not to blow a 2-0 series lead that many thought was insurmountable.

First it was 6’4’ Alex Tuch, who beat Colorado’s goaltender Grubauer with a spectacular play, knocking the pass from Nicolas Roy past him. It seemed like Grubauer was expecting Tuch to wait till the puck landed; instead, Tuch instead showcased his baseball skills by batting it in out of midair (who played a key role in the final score). This entire play started with Mattias Janmark, who missed Games 2, 3, and 4 after he took a high hit in Game 1 from Ryan Graves. Janmark put the shaft of his stick flat on the ice and Andre Burakovsky made the first mistake of the night when instead of using the boards to clear the puck, he went cross-ice with his pass. Thanks to Janmark’s defensive gem, Roy picked up the puck off passed it. Hitting the blade of Tuch’s stick, it went airborne. At full speed, Tuch displayed amazing hand-eye coordination.

The Avs played a near-perfect game and made the adjustments to combat what Vegas had done to them for the previous 8 periods. They broke up their big boys, moving Brandon Saad to play with MacKinnon and Rantanen and Landeskog down to the 2nd line. It seemed to work, as Saad scored his 7th goal of this postseason and his 4th goal in this series. Granted, the goal he scored with just 1.8 seconds left in the first period would be stopped by Fleury the next 10,000 times. It may have been the worst goal Fleury has ever given up in his entire career. It came at an unexpected time; it appeared that both teams were headed into the first intermission tied at 0-0. That would have been a moral victory for the VGK, who were clearly not the same team we watched with joy at T-Mobile for Games 3 and 4. Late-period goals can be devastating to morale and momentum and it looked like it was, based on the VGK’s second-period performance.

After 40 minutes, the VGK had just 12 shots on Grubauer and only 2 were from VGK forwards. Unlike the last 8 periods, they weren’t getting the puck in deep and when they did, it resulted in no threat whatsoever. The other 10 shots came from far out by the VGK defense. Pietrangelo wound up with 7 of the VGK’s 25 SOG. That spells trouble, especially against Grubauer.

So in my opinion, except for their 3 mistakes, Colorado was the better team last night.

The VGK’s 2nd goal, scored by 5’9” Jonathan Marchessault was the result of another turnover in the VGK defensive zone as the Avs entered on a 4-on-2 with Ryan Graves pinching deep into the zone. The pass intended for him bounced off his stick and the Avs were caught deep and out of position. The VGK went back the other way on a 3-on-2. William Karlsson entered the offensive zone with the puck. He slid toward the center of the ice, drawing the Avs player with him and leaving Marchessault all alone to the left of Grubauer. Marchessault took the pass and just had to tap it home to tie the game up at 2-2 just 3:04 after Tuch’s goal.

The momentum had swung and now the better team for the first 41:03 had their hands full and their heads spinning in disbelief. How did they let a game they had full control of slip away? It was Marchessault’s 5th goal in the last 3 games and his 6th of the playoffs, increasing his all-time playoff goals to 21, a VGK record. In his 2 previous seasons in the NHL with Tampa Bay, Marchessault had zero goals and 1 assist in 7 playoff games.

If I may take the liberty of telling the Avs how they let this game slip away, Marchessault himself said it best. “Good teams find a way to win the game.”

Words from the smallest guy on the team who literally saved them in Round 1 with his goal in Game 2 vs. Minnesota, his goal in Game 3 in this series, and the pounding he inflicted on the Avs with his Game 4 hat trick. Last night’s goal tied the game.

Marchessault and his 19 closest friends let Colorado know that they slipped into the Presidents Trophy on a technicality, but they’re now playing for real against a team that is hungry and focused on their mission.

Yes, they need to win one more game, but Mark Stone drove the dagger deep into the Avs’ heart just 50 seconds into overtime. Ryan Graves had just had 2 shots blocked at the point, the first by Stone. The second appeared to hit MacKinnon in the slot. It was picked up by Pacioretty, who sent a stretch pass to Stone. Even at the end of a long shift and tired, the captain outskated MacKinnon and Graves back toward Grubauer. That’s what heart and soul will provide, energy from an unknown source. With Stone a right-handed shooter bearing down from the left wing, it created a unique angle to the long side of Grubauer. Stone used that angle and beat Grubauer high over his left shoulder for the game-winner — leaving Ryan Graves on his knees, just like Graves left Janmark in Game 1. The hockey gods always seem to make things right.

The NHL gives credit for overtime losses during the season, which is how the Avs won the President Trophy, even though Vegas had the same amount of points and more wins. In the playoffs, however, a loss is a loss. And last night showed why the only 40-win team in the NHL is now up 3-2.

I can’t leave out Fleury’s phenomenal contribution. He was a huge reason the VGK won this game (and most other postseason games). The first goal by Saad sucked. But just like his team, he turned it around with another amazing performance, stopping 28 of the 30 shots he faced for his 88th career playoff win. Fleury also denied JT Compher 10 seconds into the overtime period when Compher had an uncontested shot from 20 feet in front of Fleury.

For those who’ve been patiently waiting to see why Alex Pietrangelo was brought here, last night you got what you’ve been waiting for. Pietrangelo may have played his best game as a VGK in a game they really needed to win, with 1 assist, 7 SOG, 4 blocked shots, 2 takeaways, and 23:51 of ice time, the most of any VGK player.

Other game notes and quotes.

DeBoer: “That was vintage Mark Stone. He blocked a shot on our end of the ice first, then got the breakaway and stuck it in the net with a perfect shot. If there’s one sequence of plays that defines him, that would be it.”

Alex Tuch on Stone’s OT winner: “He was exhausted and you saw how hard he skated down the ice. He’s the heart and soul of this team. He’s the captain that we’ve always wanted.”

Fleury on Marchessault: “Don’t tell him he’s a small guy. He’s got a big heart. He’s been amazing.”

Mark Stone on Fleury: “Ten seconds into overtime, it should’ve been over, but Fleury made a huge save and kept it going.”

Stone was held to 1 shot for the entire game, but he made it count.

Both teams had just 1 power play for the entire game, as the referees let the boys decide the outcome. Neither team registered a shot during their man advantage, which was a huge win for Vegas; Colorado had 5 PPGs in the first 4 games.

Not to be disappointed, NBCSN once again proved that their head is deeply buried in a certain part of the Colorado anatomy. NBC’s Keith Jones: “They had this game. They coughed it up and somehow gave it away. They have no one to blame, but themselves… This one’s on Colorado, an Avalanche loss more than a Vegas win.”

The Avalanche were 31-1-1 when leading after two periods in the regular season, including 3-0-0 against the Golden Knights. They’d had won 13 straight home games dating to the regular season and were 20-0-1 at home.

Ryan Graves attempted 7 shots on goal; 6 were blocked, the last 2 crucial to the OT win.

Max Pacioretty has appeared in only 6 playoff games so far since returning for game 7 vs. Minnesota. In the 6 games, he has 3 goals and 3 assists.

The Golden Knights have only ever played one Game 5 with the series tied. They defeated the Sharks in 2018 and won the series in six games. They’re 3-5 all-time in Game 5 of a series.

There have now been 3 goals in the first minute of the first overtime in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs overall. The only other time that’s happened was 1980.

For the first time since April 1, the Colorado Avalanche are no longer the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. These are the probabilities according to ESPN (which is like NBCSN, what do they know?). But I thought I’d share it with you: Tampa Bay 36%, Vegas 25%, Colorado 18%, Boston 9%, Montreal 8%, NY Islanders 5%.

I guess the only way the VGK will ever get the respect they deserve is by winning the Stanley Cup and even then, I’m not sure it will happen. These old-time hockey geezers can never accept a team that’s only 4 years old and still competing for the Stanley Cup this late in the playoffs for the 3rd time. It just irks them.

My 3 Stars of the Game:
1) Mark Stone (and his 6-foot-long stick; it was Stone’s first OT winning goal)
2) Jonathan Marchessault (1G that changed the entire momentum of the game)
3) Marc-André Fleury (outstanding when he was needed the most, especially 10 seconds into OT)

Next game is tomorrow at T-Mobile at 6 p.m. Pacific Time

If you want to hear and see more VGK content please check out the podcast I do with Eddie Rivkin on YouTube, Hockey Knights in Vegas.

Your comments and opinions are welcome here at Las Vegas Advisor or you may contact me directly at [email protected] or on my Facebook page or the Facebook page of Vegas Hockey Guy or on Twitter @TheRealJoePane

One other note: If you’re reading this blog from Facebook or Twitter and would like to access it earlier in the morning before I share it on social media, it’s usually published by 8 a.m. the morning after a game on LasVegasAdvisor.com. What better way is there to enjoy your morning coffee than reading my take on last night’s VGK game.

Tuch in the third period for the VGK’s first goal

Marchessault ties it up

Stone’s GWG in OT

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