Vegas Stars shine bright as Golden Knights even series with Jets before series shifts to Winnipeg
The Golden Knights stars shined brighter than the neon lights of the Vegas strip on Thursday, overcoming a rough first period to dominate the Winnipeg Jets, scoring three unanswered goals in the third period on route to a 5-2 win, evening the best-of-seven series with Winnipeg at one game apiece.
The Jets were expecting a strong start from the Golden Knights, but it was Winnipeg taking it to Vegas in the first 20 minutes.
Winnipeg fired four shots in the first two minutes of the game, while Vegas, after missing the net on their first few shot attempts, finally registered a couple of shots on their first power play of the game, and they were two of their best scoring opportunities of the period.
After making a nice glove save before the puck crossed the goal line, Hellebuyck took a 95 mile an hour shot from Jack Eichel to the mask, causing some damage to the mask, as well as his face, as play was stopped for him to get a small cut over his eye patched up (no stitches required, just glue).
But aside from that power play, the Jets really controlled the first period.
Winnipeg’s special teams played a huge difference in game one, and got off to a hot start in game 2.
On the first Jets power play of the game, Adam Lowry got a stick on a Neal Pionk slap shot, beating a screened Laurent Brossoit for his third goal of the postseason, scored consecutively dating back to the third period of game one.
The onslaught continued as the Jets fired 17 shots to Vegas’ eight in the first.
Kyle Connor nearly matched the Golden Knights output single-handedly with 6 shots of his own in the opening frame. However Brossoit kept his team in the game making 16 saves in the first, matching the amount Hellebuyck made in all of game one in just 20 minutes.
Turning the Tide
Severely outplayed through the first four periods of this series, things started to click for Vegas in the second. The start of the second frame was what many expected from Vegas in the first. With some power play time carrying over from the first, the Golden Knights fired five shots on Hellebuyck in the first two minutes of period 2, a flurry of shots he was yet to see so far this series.
The Golden Knights would finally get one past Hellebuyck nearly six minutes in to the frame. Wearing down the Jets on the forecheck, a loose puck in a crowded slot would be wristed home by William Karlsson for his second playoffs, as well as the team’s second goal of the playoffs to tie things up at one. And the goal sparked Vegas’s struggling offense.
Sleeping Giants Awaken
Highly criticized after a lacklustre, long-awaited playoff debut on Tuesday, Jack Eichel made his presence felt a few minutes after the Golden Knights opening tally, winning a battle in front of the net with Jets defenseman Brendan Dillon to deflect Alex Pietrangelo’s one-timer from the blue line past a handcuffed Hellebuyck to give Vegas their first lead of the series.
And while the Jets fourth line was able to tie the game before the end of the second, with Saku Maenalanen connecting with Kevin Stenlund for the redirect goal on an odd man rush, the Golden Knights assault on Hellebuyck continued with Vegas getting more shots on net in the second period (19) than in all of game one (17).
And with momentum sticking with Vegas in the third, Pietrangelo created another scoring opportunity getting a shot on net five and half minutes in, creating a rebound for Chandler Stephenson to bury in an empty net after eluding Mark Scheifele in front of the net, before another player who was highly scrutinized after game one, Winnipegger and Vegas captain Mark Stone made his presence felt.
On an odd-man rush with Stephenson, he tucked a perfect pass past Hellebuyck just inside the far post before celebrating emphatically behind the net after scoring his first goal since being sidelined back in mid-January for back surgery, doubling up the Golden Knights lead to 4-2.
And with 2:32 to play, Mark Stone added more insurance.
After winning a battle behind the net Jets net Karlsson set up Stone who stepped in to a wrist shot, untouched, from the top of slot near the left faceoff circle that beat Hellebuyck for Vegas’ third goal of the period, for a final score of 5-2.
In total, five players had a multi-point game for Vegas including numerous of Vegas’ top players.
Along with Stone’s two goals and assist, Eichel finally notched his first playoff goal, while Alex Pietrangelo picked up two primary assists and Karlsson added an assist on Stone’s second goal to go along with the one he scored. Chanlder Stevenson also picked up an assist to go along with his goal and even Phil Kessel had two assists.
Vegas is officially firing on all cylinders.
Busting out of the Shadow
After spending three seasons in the shadow of Connor Hellebuyck as the Jets star’s backup, Laurent Brossoit stole the spotlight in his second playoff start for the Golden Knights, turning away 31 of Winnipeg’s 33 shots for a huge win against his old team.
Hellebuyck played a great game himself stopping 34 of the 39 shots he faced. Unfortunately his team’s offense dwindled and struggled as the game went on, as he took his first loss of this post season.
Best of Five
With the win Vegas has tied the series 1-1 and quieted critics, at least for the time being, as the series shifts back to Winnipeg for games three and four, kicking off what is now a best-of-5 series.
Vegas has the momentum heading in to game three, but if Winnipeg can get back to the dominance they showed through the first four periods of this series, it will be a wild Whiteout Party downtown this weekend.
Considering the Jets are the bottom seeded team on the western conference side of the playoffs bracket, coming home with the series tied at one is a pretty good position to be in.
And perhaps a first capacity crowd for a playoff game at Canada Life Centre since the pandemic hit will ignite a team who is in a good position to pull off an unlikely upset in an evenly matched series.
Game 3 goes Saturday at 3pm.
Catch Joey Slattery on CTV Morning Live on Friday at 8:15 for more on the Jets Game 2 performance.
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