Girardi looks up, sees William Carrier (28) cannonballing toward him -- and he holds for an extra split-second. Right before Carrier hammers him, Girardi delivers the puck to Victor Hedman (77). This is taking a hit to make a play, as the speedy Carrier is now out of the play.
Hedman is about to change too, but there are no Golden Knights near him; that could've been Carrier. Hedman leaves it for Nikita Kucherov (86), who pushes Jon Merrill (15) back with his speed.
It looks bad, but Merrill's gap control actually isn't awful, considering the puck carrier. Three stick lengths away at the far blueline, two stick lengths away at center ice, a bit more than one stick length away at the blueline.
"Kucherov always causes defenders to back off at the blueline," noted Lightning color man Brian Engblom.
Ideally, defensemen want to be one stick length away or less at the blueline so they can disturb the puck carrier, but again, it's Kucherov. The winger also manufactures additional space by pushing Merrill back with his neutral zone speed, then slowing down and tucking the puck in on entry.
Kucherov can afford to slow down because he spots Steven Stamkos (91) coming from behind. This creates a mini two-on-one up high. Kucherov drops it off to Stamkos and occupies Merrill, giving Stamkos some space with the puck.
"I know what Stammer is going to do before he does it," said Kucherov.
Meanwhile, Point darts down the center lane; Nick Holden (22) hands him off to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41).
As Kucherov drops it off, Holden appears a tad slow to recognize Stamkos. It's not fatal, but it's about to be.
Holden moves toward Stamkos to cut him off, laying his stick on the ice to stop the possible pass. But Stamkos is patient -- he lures Holden in. When Holden raises his stick to try to take the puck away from Stamkos, the winger slides it under to an open Point.
I won't devote many words to Bellemare failing to tie up Point's stick, but that's the most egregious error here.
“I thought we showed them a little too much respect early in the game," acknowledged Gerard Gallant.
He did not specify if he was referring to Merrill or Holden or both, but it's a thin line, right? If Merrill crowds Kucherov up ice, the All-Star winger will blow by him. If Holden overplays the pass, maybe Stamkos gets his dangerous shot off.
It's the little things. Vegas isn't playing awful hockey, but they're losing at the margins.
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