Three exciting Stanley Cup playoff hockey games have all gone the way of the Vegas Golden Knights as the National Hockey League and its first round of playoffs continue this week. The Golden Knights have the Los Angeles Kings in a 3-0 hole, with Game 4 scheduled for Tuesday night at the Staples Center in L.A. If the Kings win, there will be a Game 5 in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday. Game 6 is tentatively scheduled for Saturday night at Staples Center, if necessary.
Historically, it's improbable that a team recovers from a 3-0 series deficit, although these Kings did it in 2014 against the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the postseason. A series is never over until it's actually over, and the Golden Knights have enough veteran leadership on their roster to understand this. Still, it's better to be up 3-0 than to be down 3-0, for sure.
If there is a Game 5 this week—or a Game 7 next Monday—at T-Mobile Arena, tickets can be purchased here. If Vegas wins its first-round series, second-round ticket information will be announced when the opponent and schedule have been finalized.
What Happened Last Week?
A lot went down on the ice last week in both Sin City and the City of Angels—little of it to the liking of the Kings, of course. The Golden Knights won the first three games of a best-of-seven series, and they won each matchup by one goal. These games have been excruciatingly close and very exciting to watch, and luck sometimes does play a factor in winning close games like this. However, winning three of them in a row come postseason merely tells observers that the victorious team is doing almost everything right.
Game 1 on Wednesday night highlighted the veteran experience of Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury: He posted his 11th career postseason shutout after the first ten came with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Fleury, of course, won three Stanley Cups with his former team, and he led the Golden Knights to their first-ever postseason victory, 1-0, making 30 saves in the process. Defenseman Shea Theodore scored early in the first period, and that tally held up the entire game. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, a two-time Stanley Cup champion himself, was almost as good as Fleury, making 27 saves.
On Friday night, Game 2 was a classic as Vegas scored in the first period when right wing Alex Tuch scored on a power-play opportunity. In the second period, the Kings notched a power-play goal of their own to tie the score. Then, the game went almost 50 minutes before another goal was scored. In the second overtime period, Golden Knights left wing Erik Haula beat Quick with a shot between the legs, and Vegas claimed a 2-1 win that was just as exhausting for anyone watching it as it was for those on the ice. Fleury made 29 saves in this one, as the Vegas defense was outstanding. Quick made a whopping 54 saves in the losing effort.
Game 3 on Sunday night had a different script as the scene switched to Los Angeles. The Kings, buoyed by the home crowd, took a 1-0 lead in the first period and held it all the way into the third as the Golden Knights had trouble getting to Quick early in this contest. By the third period, however, Vegas got rolling, scoring three goals to take a two-goal lead late into the game. The second and third goals came just 21 seconds apart, and the L.A. crowd was stunned. But the Kings scored again with 2:04 left in the game to make the final minutes very interesting. However, Fleury ended up with 37 saves and another victory as the Golden Knights won again, this time by a 3-2 score.
1. G Marc-Andre Fleury: He made a total of 96 saves in three games, allowing just three goals total, on his way to a 0.84 goals-against average so far in the postseason. The shutout in Game 1 was really what the Vegas organization needed in its first-ever playoff game, as it set the tone for the rest of the week. Fleury would be the first one to give the defense in front of him credit, but in the end, he is the last line of defense—and he is playing superbly right now.
2. D Shea Theodore: Not only did he score the first postseason goal in franchise history, but Theodore has been all over the ice in three games as a key part of that defense in front of Fleury. He's logged 23:48 minutes of ice time per game, and Theodore also added an assist on Haula's game-winning goal in Game 2. Basically, he had a hand in the two biggest goals of the series so far.
3. (tie) LWs James Neal & Erik Haula: Neal has a goal in Game 3 and an assist in Game 2 on Haula's big score. The veteran forward also leads the team in shots on goal and penalty minutes right now in the postseason. Meanwhile, Haula's goal to win Game 2 was a thing of beauty, and even though he's been relatively quiet otherwise, without that goal the Golden Knights would not be in the position they are in right now.
Highlight of the Week
It is Haula's double-overtime game winner against the Kings, of course. Neal skated into the offensive zone, and L.A. actually had numbers on this play, but Neal put a perfect pass through three Kings skaters to Haula on the right side of the zone. Haula went to the net with the puck unopposed and faked out Quick to go five hole for the victory. It was a beautiful piece of skating, passing and puck handling skill on display there.
What's Next for the Golden Knights?
It's always the hardest win to get, the last one in a playoff series—especially against a team like the Kings that knows how to win. Consider this, though: Los Angeles has not won a postseason series since hoisting the Cup in 2014. The Kings missed the postseason in 2015, and the next year, the Sharks exacted some revenge on the Kings by eliminating them in the first round over five games. Last year, L.A. missed the playoffs again. So it has been awhile since the Kings were at the top of their postseason game.
However, that being said, the Golden Knights will not be on cruise control. Los Angeles is a proud team, and the Kings should win Game 4 on Tuesday to save face. It would be very surprising to see Vegas sweep this series. Either way, the Golden Knights should be able to wrap up this series by Game 5 at home on Thursday night. Fleury and the defense just look that good right now, and Vegas is getting timely scoring from everywhere: Six different players have scored the six goals for the Golden Knights.
That defense, scoring depth and veteran leadership should be enough to close out this series sooner rather than later.
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