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Breaking Down the 3:59 That Might Have Saved the Vegas Season

May 15, 2018, 4:59 AM ET [16 Comments]
Sheng Peng
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WINNIPEG -- 5:40 in, the Golden Knights looked on their way to being swept.

Winnipeg had already raced out to a 6-3 even strength scoring chances edge, including a Nikolaj Ehlers post. Even a Brandon Tanev tripping call -- a life jacket power play, if there ever was one -- was a means to self-destruction, as Vegas was whistled for too many men just 39 seconds in.

But as he has so often this season, Marc-Andre Fleury beat back the tide, keeping his team afloat until they could cobble together a winning stretch.

Winning Play

Tomas Tatar's game-opening goal was a long time coming.

I don't mean just the fact that this was George McPhee's prize Trade Deadline acquisition's first goal of the playoffs, after five appearances and seven healthy scratches.

I mean how the Knights controlled the opening frame after taking the Jets' best shot.

In the first 5:40 of the contest, Vegas dumped the puck just twice in eight even strength zone entry attempts. From this point on, to Tatar's goal 13:23 in, they dumped it in six times in ten zone entry attempts.

Of course, carry-ins usually lead to more shots, and therefore, more goals. In general, you prefer carry-ins to dump-ins.

But the pace in the first 5:40 was perhaps too frenetic, and unquestionably, in the Jets' favor. The Golden Knights needed to slow the game down and get away from trading chances. Putting the puck behind the defense and Connor Hellebuyck, then forechecking, while blunting Vegas's own attack, had the benefit of bogging down Winnipeg's at-the-moment superior transition and quieting Bell MTS Place.

It would be on the forecheck where Tatar would shine:

It all starts with Luca Sbisa skating the puck out, away from Paul Stastny. Sbisa gains the line and rims it hard; Hellebuyck slows it down. Cody Eakin and Ryan Carpenter are able to apply at least momentary pressure on Ben Chiarot and Stastny in the corner.

The Jets appear poised to exit. Dustin Byfuglien shovels it to Patrik Laine. Laine sees Ehlers streaking up the opposite wing...that looks fun, right?

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While Tatar didn't know it was Laine who he was tracking, he acknowledged, "Yeah, I read it."

Eventually, the puck finds itself in the corner again. This time, Tatar outbattles Stastny. Carpenter claims it and finds a seam between Byfuglien and Laine to Shea Theodore. Winnipeg is in trouble -- but not from who they think:

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Five Jets are staring at Theodore. Off screen, Tatar has snuck behind Hellebuyck.

For a guy best known for being a sniper, it was a beautiful garbage goal.

Over the next four minutes, Vegas would continue to wear down Winnipeg on the forecheck. Three of their next four zone entries would be dump-ins.

Jonathan Marchessault would forecheck Kyle Connor into a weak pass up the gut.

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Tomas Nosek would force Tobias Enstrom to go D to D, problem being Dustin Byfuglien follows with a flat-footed stretch pass which is jumped by Colin Miller.

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The Knights are on top of every Jets' manuever. It's good, boring hockey, safe plays all around.

Here's a great example of re-loading on the forecheck. Alex Tuch takes a turn, then switches with Erik Haula, who takes his turn in this 1-2-2.

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Tatar flies in on the forecheck again!

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William Karlsson would make Enstrom brace for a hit that was never coming. At this point, there's so little space, Winnipeg is trying "hope" area passes. Schmidt steps in front of the floater.

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Vegas is just biding their time, waiting for the big mistake. It comes in the form of Winnipeg going for a change, even though Connor doesn't have full possession and hasn't built up any speed.

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"Nate did a great job of closing the gap on Connor," observed Smith. "Forced him to bobble the puck and turn it over."

A once-deafening Bell MTS Place was stunned. These two goals in 3:59 -- and perhaps more importantly, the Knights' recovery after the Jets staggered them -- might have saved the season.

Haula and Carpenter would follow shortly by hitting posts. After being outshot 10-5 to start the opening frame, the Knights closed the period with a 13-11 advantage.


In my series preview, I discussed the importance of taking advantage of Winnipeg's propensity to pinch or step defensemen up.

In the Game One loss, Vegas was able to take some advantage. From my recap:

Obviously, the Brayden McNabb goal develops over the course of time, but let's focus on the beginning of the play:

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Josh Morrissey steps up in the neutral zone on Colin Miller. However, Miller makes the play and gets the puck up to Smith. In terms of manpower, Smith is adequately covered -- there are two on him -- but he sees Karlsson free, coming down the lane.

Again, it's the old adage about having to take advantage of a forward playing defense. It says a lot about the Jets that they've had so much success relying on their forwards to play defense, but it's something that Vegas must exploit -- as they do here -- to pull out this series.

In Game 2, the Vegas was able to exploit this aggressiveness once again -- and once again, it was the Jacob Trouba-Morrissey pairing against the Karlsson line:

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Simply outstanding work from Karlsson and Smith.

Karlsson forces Adam Lowry to the blueline. Smith sees a Jet in trouble, pounces, advances to Karlsson. Karlsson sucks Trouba stepping up in, hits Smith again.

The rest is Golden Knights history.

All this said, Marchessault believes Vegas has to be better beating Winnipeg's pinching blueliners.

"It's a great play," indicated Marchessault about Karlsson's pass in particular. "We were able to execute that time. But all the other times, we weren't able to execute."

Gallant boiled it down, "It's all about making the right play, winning that battle along the boards."

What's important is that the Knights were able to be opportunistic with the little space that the Jets have given them in this series. This will certainly be a key battleground to decide who's going to the Finals.


Also worth noting: David Perron was a surprise scratch. Gallant made sure to make it clear that it wasn't a healthy scratch. We'll follow up on his Game Three status soon.


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