For the first time since 2018, the Vegas Golden Knights are heading back to the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as they defeated the Colorado Avalanche, 6-3, on Thursday night as Vegas clinched the series 4-2 on home ice at T-Mobile Arena.
Marc-Andre Fleury (8-4, 1.91 goals-against average, .923 save percentage in 12 games played) made 30 saves on 33 shots against in the win as the Golden Knights advanced to the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinal.
Vegas will face the Montréal Canadiens in their first ever postseason series as the two teams will battle for one spot in this year’s Stanley Cup Final, while the Tampa Bay Lightning host the New York Islanders in the other Semifinal matchup.
The National Hockey League announced after Game 6 in Vegas, that the winner of the Golden Knights versus Canadiens series will be presented the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl– traditionally awarded to the victor of the Western Conference Final in a non-pandemic timeline.
Meanwhile, the winner of the Lightning and Islanders series will be presented with the Prince Of Wales Trophy as is usually awarded to the victor of the Eastern Conference Final when the league isn’t forced into a temporary realignment without conferences due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Golden Knights are the first team in league history to win seven playoffs series’ in their first four years of existence.
At the other end of the rink, Philipp Grubauer (6-4, 2.61 goals-against average, .914 save percentage in 10 games played), stopped 17 out of 22 shots faced in the loss.
Avalanche forward, Nazem Kadri, served the last game of his eight-game suspension on Thursday, while head coach, Jared Bednar, almost wasn’t available to do his duty behind the bench as a COVID test irregularity prevented him from attending morning skate.
Bednar was later cleared hours before the game on another test.
Colorado jumped out ahead of Vegas less than a minute into the opening frame– emulating the Golden Knights’ patented style at home in the postseason– as Devon Toews (1) scored the game’s first goal on a catch and release shot over Fleury’s glove.
Nathan MacKinnon (6) and Brandon Saad (1) had the assists on Toews’ goal as the Avs pulled ahead, 1-0, 23 seconds into the first period.
Colorado’s lead didn’t last long, however, as it turns out Vegas can still score within the opening minutes of a playoff game on home ice even if they allow the game’s first goal.
Nick Holden (1) received a pass from Reilly Smith and floated a shot through Grubauer’s five-hole while the Avalanche goaltender was still looking to the right corner– completely unaware of the puck’s location on the ice.
Smith (5) and Nicolas Roy (4) tallied the assists on Holden’s goal as the Golden Knights tied the game, 1-1, at 1:15 of the first period.
Both teams managed to score on their first shot on goal in Game 6.
Moments later, Vegas almost took advantage of a complete swing in momentum as Alec Martinez rang the post with a shot, but he’d play a factor later in the period regardless.
Martinez sent a pass through the slot to William Karlsson (4) for a one-timer goal that beat Grubauer low on the short side between his pad and the post to make it, 2-1, Vegas at 15:06.
Heading into the first intermission, the Golden Knights led on the scoreboard, 2-1, and trailed the Avalanche in shots on goal, 12-10.
Vegas held the advantage in everything else, however, as they dominated in blocked shots (15-5), takeaways (12-1), giveaways (5-0), hits (23-15) and faceoff win percentage (53-47).
Neither team had seen any action on the power play after one period.
Alex Pietrangelo kicked things off in the middle frame with an errant puck over the glass and an automatic delay of game penalty as a result at 2:23 of the second period.
Colorado took full advantage of the ensuing power play as Mikko Rantanen (5) sent a shot off of Zach Whitecloud’s skate and into the twine after the rubber biscuit clipped Fleury’s blocker on its way by.
MacKinnon (7) and Gabriel Landeskog (9) had the assists on Rantanen’s power-play goal as the Avalanche tied things up, 2-2, at 3:47 of the second period.
Midway through the middle frame, Shea Theodore worked the puck to Pietrangelo for the shot and subsequent redirection by Keegan Kolesar (1) as the Golden Knights forward pocketed his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and gave his team a, 3-2, lead at 14:27.
Pietrangelo (7) and Theodore (5) notched the assists on the marker, but Vegas wasn’t able to pull away just yet as Colorado kept things close.
Andre Burakovsky (1) scored his first of the 2021 postseason off the post and in while Martinez inadvertently screened his own goaltender.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (3) and Cale Makar (8) had the assists on Burakovsky’s goal as the Avs tied the game, 3-3, at 16:52.
Yet, just as quick as things can be evened up, things can fall apart as the Golden Knights’ forecheck forced a turnover in Colorado’s defensive zone as the Avalanche couldn’t make an exit.
Vegas worked the puck deep with an intentional shot wide of the net that caromed off the boards to the side of the slot where Pietrangelo (1) pounced on the loose puck for the eventual game-winning goal.
Alex Tuch (3) and Max Pacioretty (4) added the helpers as the Golden Knights took a, 4-3, lead at 19:42 of the second period.
Through 40 minutes of action, Vegas led, 4-3, on the scoreboard, despite trailing Colorado, 22-16, in shots on goal, including a, 10-6, advantage for the Avs in the second period alone.
The Golden Knights continued to lead in blocked shots (24-7), takeaways (16-1), giveaways (12-1) and hits (37-31), however, as both teams managed to split faceoff win%, 50-50, through two periods.
The Avalanche were 1/1 on the power play, while Vegas had yet to see time on the skater advantage entering the final frame.
Vegas executed a play unlike any other with tremendous hand-eye coordination as Brayden McNabb let go of a shot that was redirected by Theodore, then by William Carrier (1) on the doorstep on a zig-zag play that extended the Golden Knights’ lead to two-goals.
Theodore (6) and McNabb (2) had the primary and secondary assists, respectively, as Carrier’s goal made it, 5-3, for Vegas at 11:46 of the third period.
Less than a minute later, the Golden Knights went on the power play for the first time Thursday night as Ryan Graves cut a rut to the sin bin for tripping Karlsson at 12:33.
Vegas was unsuccessful on the resulting skater advantage, however.
It was no big deal, though, as Colorado pulled Grubauer for an extra attacker with about 3:26 remaining in the game, thereby giving the Golden Knights ample opportunity to score at least one empty net goal.
And that’s just what they did.
Martinez botched a surefire empty net goal, so Pacioretty (4) cleaned things up by putting the icing on the cake with some extra insurance, 6-3, as a result of his unassisted empty net goal at 16:50 of the third period.
Bednar pulled his goaltender again for an extra skater, but Colorado couldn’t get another puck past Fleury.
At the final horn, Vegas had won, 6-3, and finished off the Avalanche 4-2 in the series– eliminating the Avs in six games in the process after Colorado rocketed out of the gate in the series with a, 7-1, win in Game 1 and a thrilling, 3-2, overtime victory in Game 2.
The Avalanche finished the night leading in shots on goal, 33-23, including an, 11-7, advantage in the third period alone and wrapped up Thursday’s effort leading in faceoff win% (53-47).
Meanwhile, the Golden Knights exited their own building leading in blocked shots (34-18), giveaways (15-1) and hits (46-42) in Game 6.
Colorado finished the game 1/1 on the power play, while Vegas went 0/1.
With the win, Fleury moved into sole possession of the fourth most postseason victories by a goaltender in league history with his 89th career Stanley Cup Playoff win.
Vegas will have home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Semifinal and the Stanley Cup Final, should they eliminate Montréal in the Semifinal, by virtue of having the best regular season record of the remaining four playoff teams.
Game 1 at T-Mobile Arena is set for Monday night at 9 p.m. ET.
Viewers in the United States can tune to NBCSN for coverage, while those in Canada can tune to CBC, SN or TVAS.
Meanwhile, the Islanders open up their series with the Lightning on the road in Game 1, Sunday afternoon at Amalie Arena with puck drop set for 3 p.m. ET.
Fans in the United States looking to catch Tampa and New York can tune to NBC, while those in Canada can choose from CBC, SN or TVAS.
To summarize, that’s Sunday, June 13th for Game 1 between the Isles and Bolts and Monday, June 14th for Game 1 of the Habs and Golden Knights.