For whatever reason, the Vegas Golden Knights struggled to start games on time this season. In fact, they tended to start them roughly 20 minutes late. In the second period.
The playoffs have proven to be more of the same, but fortunately for the Golden Knights they were able to turn first period frustration into five unanswered goals and knock the wind out of the Minnesota Wild in Game Three of the Honda West Division Semifinal series to take a 2-1 lead.
“I don’t think we could have played any worse in the first period,” said Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith. “I feel like they were beating us to a lot of pucks and we were playing slow.”
That’s an understatement.
After being out-shot 7-4 in the opening frame, the Golden Knights were down 2-0. They were actually fortunate it wasn’t 3-0 as Joel Eriksson-Ek had scored his second goal of the game, only to have it called back on a coach’s challenge for offside.
“A lot of frustration,” Smith said when asked about the mood in the room after 20 minutes. “When you come out in a playoff game like that, everyone’s pretty upset about it. I think we did a good job turning things around rather quickly (in the second period).”
“We were lucky to be down 2-0 after one period… we were not playing our best. We still had a lot of time to find a way to battle back. We just had to be patient a bit. I think we were a little bit tentative to start.”
It was Stone who got the ball rolling for his club, scoring his first of the playoffs at 8:39 of the second period and exploding into an emotional celebration immediately after.
“I thought our forecheck was great. Nabber (Brayden McNabb) makes a great play up to Stevie (Chandler Stephenson) as he makes a great play to me on the first (goal). Our goals are all either quick transition or getting in on the forecheck.”
Stone also talked about having “identity” shifts in the second period, getting back to more of what the Vegas Golden Knights are known for when it comes to forechecking hard, turning the puck over and generating scoring chances from hard work.
“You look at the game-tying goal. I know it’s nothing pretty but Will (Carrier) gets in on the forecheck and forces a turnover. The big bodies go to work and Brownie (Patrick Brown) goes to the net and we get rewarded.”
Fortunately for the Golden Knights, once they were rolling, they proved impossible to stop. When the dust settled, the VGK left Game Three with a big 5-2 win and pushed right back against a Wild squad that came out desperate on home ice but couldn’t play a full 60 minutes. Vegas will have a chance to put the Wild one game away from elimination in the best-of-seven series in Game Four Saturday night.