DENVER — The Vegas Golden Knights needed a period to find their legs. Then, for 40 minutes, they bombarded the Colorado Avalanche with shots, hits and Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer made saves and coughed up rebounds.
It seemed like Golden Knights’ game.
Until Reilly Smith took a penalty just 45 seconds into OT and Mikko Rantanen (3) ripped a top-shelf wrister over Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for the OT game-winner Wednesday night at Ball Arena. The win delivered a commanding 2-0 series lead for the Avs as the series shifts to Las Vegas for Games 3 and 4, beginning Friday.
The Avalanche picked up where they left off in Game 1, though it took a little bit of luck on top of their effort. Brandon Saad split the Golden Knights defense at the blue line for a breakaway. As Saad bore down on Fleury, he fanned on the wrist shot.
Saad (5) absolutely whiffed, but the sliding puck…slowly…sliding…puck fooled Fleury. 1-0.
However, VGK weathered the early push and evened the game with a power-play goal. Midway through the first period, Alex Newhook got the gate for holding, and good guys got the tying goal.
After good puck work around the perimeter, then a sharp pass through the Avalanche box, Alec Martinez pounded a one-timer past a lunging Vezina trophy nominee Philipp Grubauer.
Unlike Sunday, when the Avalanche snowed Golden Knights, the shots were even through the first period, and with a little bit of rest, VGK looked like a different team. A little bit, anyway.
The Golden Knights clearly had trouble dealing with the Avalanche speed, at least in the first period. On the corners and to loose pucks, the Colorado Avalanche created time and space. Winger Jonathan Marchessault took the third of four Golden Knights penalties in the first period, and Colorado punched their ticket for another lead.
After a handful of tape-to-tape passes, Sam Girard appeared to go wide on the left-wing, but instead feathered a saucy pass into the slot and onto Tyson Jost’s stick. Jost (2) snapped it past Fleury. 2-1.
Colorado had several more golden chances on their fourth power play of the period. In the waning seconds, it appeared Fleury was down-and-out but somehow kept a pair of shots from lighting the lamp.
Overall, Colorado’s shot advantage was only 11-9, but the quality disparity was in Colorado’s favor. With 7:30 of power play time, the Avs had seven of their 11 shots at 5v4.
The second period was a bit different. OK, a lot different. The Avalanche didn’t get a shot on goal for over seven minutes in the second period. Those tape-to-tape passes began finding VGK tape.
The Golden Knights got to their skill game in the second period. The Avs helped along with turnovers by the case. The Grade A chances were suddenly on the stick of the players in white. Midway through the second period, Marchessault sprung Reilly Smith (2) behind the Avs defense. Smith used a sweeping deke for a top-shelf backhander. 2-2.
VGK outshot the Avalanche 15-6 in the second period.
And the Golden Knights kept charging in the third period. The 2-2 game that felt disappointing to Avs fans began to feel lucky as Vegas ripped shots off three posts and outshot the Colorado Avalanche 24-7 over 30 minutes beginning with the start of the second period. That includes one lonely shot in the first 10 minutes of the third period.
Through the second and third periods, VGK outshot the Avs 31-12.
Smith missed his golden shorthanded chance midway through the third period to give the Golden Knights a lead. After Grubauer misplayed a loose puck in the crease, Smith quickly shot it back to the open net but amazingly hit the post. Iron shot #4.
In the final three minutes, Marchessault cut across Devon Toews, who tripped Marchessault. Golden Knights power play. Several Grubauer saves later, the Avalanche killed the power play, and 60 minutes wasn’t enough.
Smith then took a slashing penalty just 45 seconds into OT. Colorado again had a properly served opportunity, but Nathan MacKinnon ripped a shot off the near-side post behind Marc-Andre Fleury.
No matter, Rantanen finished the job a few moments later. Heartbreaker.