The Vegas Golden Knights had two chances to finish the job against the Minnesota Wild and failed both times. Now, the Golden Knights play host to the Wild in Game 7 of their first-round series, with all the momentum on the side of the team from the land of 1,000 lakes.
It’s a familiar scene for a Golden Knights team that has struggled to win close-out games over the previous few seasons. This is the third consecutive playoff run where the Golden Knights have allowed a series in which they led 3-1 go to seven games. It’s not a pretty habit for an organization that has otherwise been among the NHL’s elite in most other categories.
Besides playing with speed, the Golden Knights will also need to be aware of not getting caught up ice.
It was an amazing regular season for a Golden Knights team that added big names such as Alex Pietrangelo before the season in an effort to push their roster over the top. Despite their short history, they’ve made multiple playoff runs and after improving the roster in the offseason, this year was supposed to be the one where they marched to the Stanely Cup Finals.
The regular season went according to plan as they were atop the league for long stretches, but the Wild were a team that gave them trouble all year and now the Golden Knights are struggling against them once again. The Golden Knights have only scored two goals over the last two games as the Wild have done a good job of not making mistakes, as well as benefit from some great performances by goalie Cam Talbot.
The Golden Knights will need to find a way to put the puck in the back of the net tonight, likely getting back to their game plan that had an emphasis on speed from earlier in the series. That speed in the attack has slowly disappeared in the last few games as Vegas has lost its identity.
Players on the COVID-19 list
Brayden McNabb, Ryan Reaves, and Peyton Krebs have all appeared on the COVID-19 list over the last few days for the Golden Knights. McNabb has been a steady presence on defense for the entire season thus far and Reaves brings a physical presence that few players across the entire league match.
While it’s still unclear if they will miss tonight’s game, losing significant pieces would definitely hurt the Golden Knights. Max Pacioretty and Tomas Nosek are also game-time decisions, though they both have missed a few games in a row and would likely not be at 100%, even if they did manage to return tonight.
However, this is playoff hockey and players get injured. Every team will be dealing with this issue as the playoffs continue and the Golden Knights are one of the deeper rosters around. This should help them manage, even without these players that are regularly in the lineup.
Trends and Stats for Game 7s
Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer is 5-0 all-time in Game 7s, including one that Vegas fans will remember in 2019 after the San Jose Sharks pulled off a large comeback. With his experience and success in Game 7s, DeBoer will be ready to prepare his team for the important game. He will also rely on veterans such as Pietrangelo, Marc-Andre Fleury, and captain Mark Stone to help the Golden Knights get their first-ever series-clinching win at home.
The Wild have a 3-0 record in Game 7s as a franchise as they have never lost one of the do-or-die games. On the other hand, the Golden Knights have a record of 1-1 in Game 7s, with their win coming over the Vancouver Canucks in last season’s bubble after blowing another 3-1 lead.
Trends and stats are meant to be broken but they give an idea as to past performance. Losing three straight games would be a devastating end to this series for the Golden Knights, but at least they can use games 2-4 as a blueprint of what they need to do to get the win.
Keys to the Game
As mentioned above, one constant that was emphasized by the Golden Knights earlier in the series was playing with speed. Over the last two elimination games, the Golden Knights haven’t done that as well as they did earlier in the series, instead allowing the Wild to get set in their defense.
Besides playing with speed, the Golden Knights will also need to be aware of not getting caught up ice. Shea Theodore and Pietrangelo are both gifted offensive players but there needs to be better communication. It just takes a look at what happened on the first Wild goal last game to see that there are opportunities ripe for Wild goals.
Last but not least, slowing down the Wild line of Joel Eriksson Ek / Marcus Foligno / Jordan Greenway is of utmost importance. These three have been giving the Golden Knights fits thus far and Vegas has had no answer for their physical play. Finding a way for this line to end up at least even while they’re on the ice would go a long ways towards securing a victory.
The puck drops tonight at 6PM PDT in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena. The winner will go on to face the Colorado Avalanche in the next round.