The Vegas Golden Knights entered play Monday night down in a playoff series for the first time in this postseason (and, therefore, for the first time ever as well). They ended the night celebrating their 3-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. Now the Western Conference Final will head to Vegas for Games 3 and 4. The Golden Knights now have home ice advantage in the series after stealing tonight’s game on the road.
Game Two Final Score: Golden Knights 3 – Winnipeg Jets 1
Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 30 of 31 shots; his stellar performance once again continues his story as one of the most polarizing players in the Stanley Cup Playoffs thus far. He is an early favourite for the Conn Smythe award too. Connor Hellebuyck, on the other end, managed 25 saves on 28 shots in the loss.
First Period: Hot Start for the Golden Knights
After giving up three goals in the first seven minutes of Game One, the Golden Knights made sure to have a stronger start in Game Two. They peppered Hellebuyck with 13 shots, six alone from standout forward Jon Marchessault. Two of those found the back of the net: Tomas Tatar tallied first on a great effort staying with a nearly lost play, and Marchessault next on a sneaky-five hole breakaway goal.
Although Winnipeg managed 11 shots of their own, Fleury stood tall to keep them off the board. Both teams went 0-for-1 on the power play in the period.
Second Period: Scoreless, But Winnipeg Coming Close
The Jets undoubtedly stepped up for the second period, but Vegas thwarted their attacks. A strong chance off the rush from Patrik Laine four minutes into the period found Fleury’s pad. Then an errant defensive play from the Knights ended with a shot off the post in tight from Andrew Copp.
Fleury, always an amusing guy to watch, promptly “thanked” his post with a pat of his glove as the puck exited the zone.
Nate Schmidt continued to be the most frequently deployed defenseman by the Golden Knights, after playing a team-high 23:02 in Game 1. The shot count ended 8-8 for the period, leaving Vegas with a slight edge overall of 21-19. To their encouragement, this already matched their total shot output from Game One.
Period 3: Too Little, Too Late for the Jets
The Jets began the third period by pushing the play and building on the momentum they’d gradually been building through the second. Vegas appeared to be more concerned with defending the lead than playing their game, and Winnipeg took advantage. With more freedom in the neutral zone, the Jets entered Vegas zone countless times with speed. Frequently, these rushes were led by defensemen Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, or Dustin Byfuglien.
After the Jets faced multiple two-on-ones, close calls, and big saves from Fleury, they finally broke through with a power-play goal at the eight-minute mark. Kyle Connor took a wrist shot from the outside of the right circle, and it squeaked through Fleury’s arm and into the net.
Unfortunately for the Jets, Vegas turned it back on immediately. The ex-Florida Panthers forwards hooked up for a goal just 1:28 after Connor’s goal, as Reilly Smith slid a feed across to Marchessault for his second of the night.
Game Two Wrap
Ultimately, Vegas clapped back with their own quick start to take Game Two in a similar fashion to Winnipeg’s Game 1 victory. It looks like maybe the extra time off between rounds may have slowed the Golden Knights a bit in the first game of the series, but they proved they’d shaken the rust off in time for tonight. Fleury continued his Cinderella story, proving to everyone his ability as a postseason starting goaltender is still very much alive and well.
That being said, the Jets are the most formidable playoff opponent Vegas has faced. Winnipeg finds their success when playing with speed, something Vegas has the ability to match. However, when the game opens up a bit, the Jets have had the edge so far. Winnipeg will need their depth players to spend more time forechecking and playing the body again to swing momentum their way.
This series is sizing up to be a long one, as these two teams appear to be just too good to lose. A good start is exponentially more important in this type of series. Both teams will likely have strong second and third periods, receive solid goaltending, and play relatively disciplined games. This makes the first period and the first goal extremely vital, as it has proven to be through the first two games.
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