You could cut the tension with a hockey stick. Despite being the better team for 50-plus minutes in Game Three, the Vegas Golden Knights found themselves trailing the Colorado Avalanche and in danger of falling behind 3-0 in the Honda West Division final series.
It was then Lady Luck favored the home team with a bounce off the backside of Avs goaltender Philipp Grubauer that found its way over the goal line to tie the game at 2-2. Just 45 seconds later, Max Pacioretty tipped home a Nick Holden shot from the point.
That’s when the roof blew off T-Mobile Arena.
The Golden Knights have said they felt they were the better team in Game Two but lost. They won Game Three. Now, despite trailing the series 2-1, the VGK has the momentum firmly on its side.
Game Four is tonight, once again to be played in front of a packed house on The Strip.
For some reason, the fact that Game Three was Colorado’s first loss of the playoffs didn’t really resonate with me. But there it is, 6-1 in the 2021 post-season after a sweep of the St. Louis Blues and winning the first two games of the series. The Avalanche has been a juggernaut offensively, out-scoring opponents 32-13 and allowing one first-period goal so far.
Combine this with the Vegas Golden Knights penchant for starting slowly in games and you have a potential recipe for disaster. However, the Golden Knights have bounced back from an abysmal Game One with two great efforts, finally finding victory in Game Three to climb back in the series.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Vegas has been the better team in two of the three games. Grubauer has been the saving grace for Colorado, earning them a split when they weren’t at their best. The Avs top line hasn’t been as consistent as they would like. Each team has had its ups and downs, but with a pivotal game to be played at a sold out T-Mobile Arena, the impetus really ends up on the Avalanche to staunch the bleeding.
If Colorado can win Game Four tonight, it almost becomes game over in the series because they’ve broken the mojo of the road arena and have two chances to wrap up the series at home. Plus the Avalanche simply have not generated enough scoring chances thus far to overcome the Golden Knights onslaught.
It boils down to more than just goaltending. Both teams employ a version of the same breakout play with a touch pass through the netural zone to hit a streaking forward in stride. In Game One Colorado ripped the neutral zone to shreds with this high-speed manouver. Since then Vegas has adjusted its play to calm the waters substantially. Both teams know they need to attack with speed and use it to overwhelm the opposing defense.
Colorado needs to start fast and keep it in gear the entire game, which they haven’t done in the last six periods. Vegas needs to also wake up earlier and get going, which they have not done much of the entire playoffs.
Vegas Golden Knights Keys to the Game
- Get out of the gate! For goodness sake the Golden Knights have to at some point play 60 minutes of hockey. They’re a scary team. Talented and deep, they have confidence and swagger too. But is it too much to ask to jump out on top and then stay there? They’ve scored first a few times, but it seems they just have the worst time playing that entire first period.
- Keep the Avs to the outside. Perimeter chances aren’t generally good ones. Keeping the danger to the ouside and not letting traffic to the front against Marc-Andre Fleury is going to be critical to success tonight. Don’t let Nathan MacKinnon and his line off the mat. They’re not doing much now. Don’t let them wake up.
- Win the battles on the wall. If you keep the game on the perimeter, you have to win the board battles. Vegas must out-work the Avs in every single puck battle.