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.
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?
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:
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:
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.
Too early to play hang-on hockey: By my count, #WPGWhiteout 5-2 ES chances. Per @NatStatTrick, WPG 24-8 5v5 Corsi, 9-4 chances, 4-1 High-danger. Wasn't THAT ugly, Jets were kept mostly from perimeter. But #VegasBorn needs to attack