Nick and Connor discuss John Tavares signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Crosby/Malkin vs. Tavares/Matthews argument, best and worst free agency signings and more. At this point, we’re also strangely optimistic about the St. Louis Blues.
*Technically speaking, these players cannot sign until noon on Sunday, but thanks to a week long interview period with all the other teams, they might already have agreements in place.
With that in mind, let’s try to weigh the options in front of the best options in the market this summer, keeping in mind these rankings are completely arbitrary and ultimately meaningless– like everything in the postmodern world (that was for you, Islanders fans, in case You-Know-Who doesn’t re-sign).
First, let’s get this out of the way– signing Ryan Reaves for two-years at $2.775 million per season is… bad. Yeah, not great. That’s over half of what James Neal was making (at least according to his $5.000 million cap hit in Vegas) in 2017-18 and, well, Reaves is a fourth liner.
Neal can still reach the 30-goal plateau.
Granted, his stock will undoubtedly rise too, given a remarkable Golden Knights inaugural season run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Anyway, on with the show, eh (Happy Canada Day, Canadian readers).
Five of the best UFA forwards:
1) John Tavares, 27, 36-47–83 totals in 82 games played, $5.500 million cap hit (2017-18)
Tavares may leave the New York Islanders, then again he may stick around. Also at play (at the time of this writing around 1:30 a.m. ET and in no particular order), the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars.
He can only sign for a maximum of seven years and will likely cost around $10 million per season. For contending teams, his decision means everything for the rest of the dominoes to fall in place.
For those outside the playoff picture looking to get back into the swing of things, well, expect those small deals to be announced right away at noon.
2) James van Riemsdyk, 29, 36-18–54 totals in 81 games played, $4.250 million cap hit (2017-18)
van Riemsdyk shouldn’t be in the $9.000 million range, but stranger things always happen on July 1st every offseason. All indications thus far point to a reunion with the team that drafted him 2nd overall in 2007– the Philadelphia Flyers.
Will it be a smart deal? Yes and no.
Assuming Philadelphia rids themselves of Jori Lehtera‘s $4.700 million per season on the books next summer and finds a way to keep Wayne Simmonds around, this is a lateral move that fills what could become a hole in their top-six forwards. Then again, perhaps the Flyers are already thinking of moving on from Simmonds via a trade? Time will tell.
Meanwhile van Riemsdyk is a two-time 30-goal scorer, so that should offset Philadelphia’s lackluster goaltending, right?
3) James Neal, 30, 25-19–44 totals in 71 games played, $5.000 million cap hit (2017-18)
Neal is two years younger than the next guy on this list, but he’s been more consistent as a glue-guy that can slide up on your second line when necessary. Will he be overpaid? For sure. Will he score more than 30 goals in 2018-19? It’s possible. Neal tends to have two or three seasons under 30 goals before a “breakout” year like in 2011-12 (40 goals) and 2015-16 (31 goals).
Anything longer than five years is a bad deal in the long run (not for Neal though). Even five years is pushing it as he’ll be well past his prime by then.
4) Paul Stastny, 32, 16-37–53 totals in 82 games played, $7.000 million cap hit (2017-18)
Stastny is one of the best playmakers in the league that doesn’t always get enough recognition. Unfortunately for one general manager, that’ll mean a lot of money packed into too long of a deal this summer.
Oft injured and not quite the dominant force he was when he broke into the league in 2006-07, Stastny doesn’t come with any receipts or refunds, but rather a “buyer beware” tag. In the right role, he’ll elevate your team to the Western Conference Final, a la his run down the stretch with the Winnipeg Jets.
Otherwise, paying him more than $7.000 million and expecting different results as a first or second line center without support is insane.
5) Tyler Bozak, 32, 11-32–43 totals in 81 games played, $4.200 million cap hit (2017-18)
Bozak had one season past the 50-point plateau (he had 55 points in 2016-17), but he consistently manages upper-40s from season to season. That’s points, not goals alone, mind you.
Something in the $6.000 million range sounds perfect. Especially if you’re putting Bozak on the second line on your roster. Similar to Stastny, though, the right support around him can elevate his production. Unlike Stastny, however, Bozak is less injury prone.
Five of the best UFA defenders:
1) Thomas Hickey, 29, 5-19–24 totals in 69 games played, $2.200 million cap hit (2017-18)
Hickey didn’t play a full season in any of the three seasons of his most recent contract with the Islanders. Baring any setbacks, he should be due for a raise and an increased role as a top-4 defender looking for a fresh start (assuming he leaves New York).
Look, there are no surefire 30 or 40-point scorer defenders available on the market this summer unless you take a gander at some RFA blueliners like Matt Dumba (49 points), Colin Miller (41), Brandon Montour (32), Noah Hanifin (31) and Ryan Pulock (30).
If you’re simply trying to fill a need and have done enough scouting, Hickey could be your guy. Just saying.
2) Ian Cole, 29, 5-15–20 totals in 67 games played, $2.100 million cap hit (2017-18)
Buy low, sell (potentially) high is what one can expect from Cole.
Considering how the Pittsburgh Penguins traded him to the Ottawa Senators as part of the Derick Brassard trade, then was flipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nick Moutrey and a 2020 third round pick, Cole at least brings interested eyes from playoff hopeful general managers looking to add to the blueline.
He could be a big steal or expendable. The choice is yours.
3) Dylan DeMelo, 25, 0-20–20 totals in 62 games played, $650,000 cap hit (2017-18)
DeMelo is a top-6 blueliner that for some reason, wasn’t in the plans for the San Jose Sharks and their latest attempt at the “Cup or bust” mantra (hey, it worked for Washington finally– despite abandoning the “Cup or bust” mentality thanks, in part, to the salary cap).
Yes, he didn’t score a goal in 2017-18, but 20 assists is still something as a defenseman. Also, not every defenseman is counted on to score. That’s offense and they’re defensemen after all.
4) Calvin de Haan, 27, 1-11–12 totals in 33 games played, $3.300 million cap hit (2017-18)
Injuries and surgery kept de Haan from playing a full season. Otherwise, yes, the production of optimal defenders to attract this offseason really does fall off in the UFA category.
de Haan is only 27, so he’s still in his playing prime and ripe as a defender (blueliners really tapper off around 33-years-old if you use the eye test– there are always exceptions, however). If the Islanders can’t keep him around, there’s a good chance he’ll do better elsewhere in a legitimate role.
5) Andrej Sustr, 27, 2-5–7 totals in 44 games played, $1.950 million cap hit (2017-18)
Being 6-foot-7 and 220-pounds should be good enough to prevent other players that are (on average) half-a-foot shorter from breaking into the offensive zone.
Sustr was the odd man out in Tampa as the Lightning exploded with youth on the blueline this season. He could lock up a $3.000-$4.000 million AAV deal easily this summer and do well in a top-4 role for a team needing a right shot defender to make the difference.
If you can’t sign one of these five defensemen, perhaps take a chance on John Moore (18 points), Nick Holden (17), Luca Sbisa (14), Roman Polak (12) or yes, Brooks Orpik (10) for his rough-and-tough qualities.
Five of the best UFA goaltenders:
1) Carter Hutton, 32, .931 save percentage and 2.09 goals against average in 32 GP, $1.125 million cap hit (2017-18)
Hutton realistically has three solid years left as a goaltender and will likely end up with the Buffalo Sabres as they plan to transition the rights to tending the net from Hutton to Linus Ullmark, theoretically, right?
At least Hutton’s been above average as a backup for the last three seasons with a 2.33 GAA and .918 SV% in 17 games for the Nashville Predators in 2015-16, 2.39 GAA and .913 SV% in 30 games for St. Louis in 2016-17 and his 2.09 and .931 this season for the Blues.
If he’s signed for more than three years that’s not great. Considering he’s about to cash in on $4.000 million per season, probably.
2) Kari Lehtonen, 34, .912 SV% and 2.56 GAA in 37 GP, $5.900 million cap hit (2017-18)
Any team looking to add a backup on a one or two-year deal while they’re waiting for a prospect to make the full-time backup role would be smart to land Lehtonen in net for that transition period.
Especially if that team has a solid defense in front of him and an offense to steal a game or two. While Lehtonen was 15-14-3 this season in 37 games for the Dallas Stars, that’s still only three games below .500.
Think about that. He played more games than usual for a backup– appearing in almost half of the season for Dallas– and the net result was only a few points out of the postseason. A nice two-year deal gives Lehtonen some job security as he joins the 35-year-old club in November.
Another plus, for those interested, he won’t be at a $5.900 million cap hit on his next deal.
3) Anton Khudobin, 32, .913 SV% and 2.56 GAA in 31 GP, $1.200 million cap hit (2017-18)
In his two-year reunion with the Boston Bruins, Khudobin went from a 2.64 GAA and .904 SV% in 2016-17 (16 games played) to a 2.56 GAA and .913 SV% in 2017-18 (31 games played).
The last time he played over 30 games was for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2013-14, when he went on to suit up for 34 appearances and yielded a 2.72 GAA and .900 SV%. Ouch.
Sample size is everything. Was 2017-18 a lucky fluke or a product of having a good team in front of him? His next team in 2018-19 will be more telling (and it just might be the Dallas Stars). Approach with caution.
4) Cam Ward, 34, .906 SV% and 2.73 GAA in 43 GP, $3.300 million cap hit (2017-18)
Ward is no longer a starting goaltender and was over-relied on in Carolina this season thanks to Scott Darling‘s vanishing act as a starter (albeit in his first season as a starting goaltender).
5) Jonathan Bernier, 29, .913 SV% and 2.85 GAA in 37 GP, $2.750 million cap hit (2017-18)
Bernier literally saved Colorado’s season when Semyon Varlamov went down with yet another injury. Now Philipp Grubauer is manning the pipes for the Avalanche with Varlamov moving into a refined role unless General Manager Joe Sakic can find a trading partner and keep Bernier from going where he is expected to go on Sunday.
The Detroit Red Wings are calling Bernier’s number as the next backup to Jimmy Howard and it’s a lateral move from Petr Mrazek‘s 2.89 GAA and .910 SV% in 22 games in 2017-18 with Detroit before he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Seriously, Bernier’s only saving grace was that the 2017-18 Avalanche were a lot better than the 2016-17 Avalanche had they been in front of the netminder (Bernier was with the Anaheim Ducks in 2016-17).
Regardless, the Red Wings are rebuilding, so it makes sense (somehow).
If you can’t sign one of these UFA goalies, hopefully you’re not looking to sign a starter from the market this offseason, much less a backup. Start working those phonelines for a trade, because Halak, Robin Lehner and others are your UFA options. *shudders*
The 2018 offseason is sure to bring lots of spending with several high-caliber talents testing the waters of unrestricted free agency. Here’s a look at the top-10 available players with the highest cap hits from 2017-18 courtesy of CapFriendly.com.
The free agent market opens Sunday at noon ET.
1) C Joe Thornton (San Jose Sharks), $8.000 million
Thornton has yet to win a Cup and re-signed with the Sharks last July for a little more than what Patrick Marleau got in his average annual value on his way out of San Jose with his three-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. At 38-years-old, Thornton’s entering– if not well beyond– the twilight of his career and may retire.
Or he’ll come back for one last ride with San Jose as General Manager Doug Wilson looks to stockpile another Cup-or-bust roster with Evander Kane having re-signed for another seven years and the Sharks as a legitimate contender for John Tavares and others. Much like last season, Thornton could be playing the waiting game to a) not tie up any spending money San Jose has yet and b) to see what Wilson brings in.
He had 13-23–36 totals in 47 games played with the Sharks last season and battled injuries that kept him out of postseason action.
2) LW/RW Rick Nash (New York Rangers –> Boston Bruins), $7.800 million
Nash will gauge the open market and wait to sign a deal after July 1st as he is contemplating retirement altogether.
Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney has indicated he’s open to bringing the 34-year-old winger back for another season in black-and-gold after Boston failed to snag 35-year-old KHLer returning to the NHL, Ilya Kovalchuk, last week.
In 71 games with the Bruins and Rangers, Nash had 21-13–34 totals. He also scored three goals and had two assists (five points) in 12 postseason games with Boston after suffering a concussion in March.
3) C Paul Stastny (St. Louis Blues –> Winnipeg Jets), $7.000 million
Winnipeg and Stastny, 32, have had a mutual interest in each other since the Jets acquired the veteran center at the trade deadline, however, Stastny could cash in as one of the better centers left in the market. The Montreal Canadiens have been rumored to be in touch with Stastny’s camp and may take a stab at the son of former intra-province rival Québec Nordiques legend, Peter Stastny.
Paul Stastny had 16-37–53 totals in 81 games with the Jets and Blues this season.
4) D Mike Green (Detroit Red Wings), $6.000 million
After spending his first 10 NHL seasons with the Washington Capitals, Green spent the last three seasons with the Red Wings. The 32-year-old blueliner cashed in on a three-year, $6.000 million AAV deal in the midst of his prime and is beginning to reach the tail-end of optimal athletic ability in the modern game.
Despite having a no-movement clause, Green was open to whatever Detroit General Manager Ken Holland had in mind around the deadline as the defender is still in search of his first Cup. Green was not traded and had 8-25–33 totals in 66 games this season with the Red Wings as a top-6 defender.
5) C Tomas Plekanec (Montreal Canadiens –> Toronto Maple Leafs), $6.000 million
Plekanec broke into the NHL as a member of the Canadiens in 2003-04 and spent his entire career in Montreal before being traded to Toronto around the deadline this season in search of a Cup.
The 35-year-old shaved his trademark goatee at Lou Lamoriello’s discretion and even bought a new turtleneck, but amassed two assists in 17 games for the Maple Leafs down the stretch. Plekanec did, however, yield 6-20–26 totals in 77 games for Toronto and Montreal this season and added four points (two goals, two assists) in the Leafs seven-game series loss to the Boston Bruins in the First Round this postseason.
All signs point point Plekanec rejoining the Habs this summer.
6) G Kari Lehtonen (Dallas Stars), $5.900 million
Lehtonen, 34, shifted to a full-time backup role in Dallas this season as a result of Ben Bishop joining the Stars last summer and– despite a 14-14-1 record in 36 games (slightly below .500)– it paid off. His 2.58 goals against average and .911 save percentage is exactly what you ask from an average-to-slightly-above-average backup goaltender.
Stars General Manager Jim Nill doesn’t have a plan laid out for the eventual backup behind Bishop for the remainder of Bishop’s contract, but Nill’s in luck as this year’s backup goalie market is full of quality candidates for at least a year or two.
7) D Toby Enstrom (Winnipeg Jets), $5.750 million
The Winnipeg Jets youth movement ultimately forced 33-year-old Toby Enstrom into the land of the obsolete. He had one goal and five assists (six points) in 43 games played.
He won’t be making anywhere near his $5.750 million cap hit from this season, but he still can provide an organization with some much needed defensive depth as a bottom-pair blueliner or seventh defender.
Meanwhile, Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff can utilize the newfound salary on other important pieces, like Patrik Laine‘s next contract after the 2018-19 season, for example.
T-8) D Brooks Orpik (Washington Capitals/Colorado Avalanche/UFA), $5.500 million
Orpik won his second Cup this season (first with the Capitals) and was subsequently traded with Philipp Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche as part of Washington’s salary dump venture to re-sign John Carlson (spoiler alert: it worked) at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic bought-out the remaining year on Orpik’s contract, making the 37-year-old defender a free agent a year ahead of schedule. Before he makes a comeback, he’ll have to sign elsewhere for much less than his $5.500 million cap hit.
T-8) C John Tavares (New York Islanders), $5.500 million
If Tavares doesn’t re-sign with the Islanders this offseason, he’ll become the biggest prize on the free agent market. Thanks to the interview period, we already know he’s met with representatives from six organizations (in no particular order)– the New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Islanders have a new General Manager (Lou Lamoriello) and new head coach (Barry Trotz), but will front office moves that are sure to shake up components of the roster ultimately sway Tavares to stay or is the 27-year-old star-center going to pursue a chance to win the Cup elsewhere a lot sooner rather than later? We’ll know as soon as Tavares’s agent or a team announces a deal.
T-10) C/LW Valtteri Filppula (Philadelphia Flyers), $5.000 million
At 34-years-old, 11-22–33 totals in 80 games played isn’t terrible for someone that’d make a great third liner on any organization. Unfortunately for Filppula, a $5.000 million cap hit will.
The Flyers will undoubtedly move on and replace the veteran forward with someone younger from Lehigh Valley or elsewhere in the system, while Filppula should be able to secure a two or three year deal elsewhere at less value as a key “glue guy”.
T-10) LW/RW James Neal (Vegas Golden Knights), $5.000 million
Instead of trading Neal by the trade deadline, Vegas General Manager George McPhee held onto the veteran winger for the ride and the Golden Knights came three wins away from winning the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season.
All season long, the 30-year-old NHL veteran came in clutch with dazzling highlight reel goals and 44 points (25 goals, 19 assists) on the season in 71 games for the Knights. With a $5.000 million cap hit, Neal’s value could skyrocket– thanks to supply and demand– or stay around the same and provide a Cup contending team with the necessary offense and depth to get them over the hump.
T-10) C/RW Mikhail Grabovski (Vegas Golden Knights), $5.000 million
Career-ending concussion related issues prevented Grabovski, 34, from suiting up with the Golden Knights in their inaugural season as Vegas utilized his $5.000 million cap hit to surpass the salary cap floor.
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Vegas Golden Knights and their outlook for the summer.
After shattering record after record set by previous expansion teams in their inaugural seasons, the Vegas Golden Knights compiled a 51-24-7 record and 109 points on the season in 2017-18. It was not only good enough for a playoff berth, but good enough for 1st place in the Pacific Division.
Head coach Gerard Gallant got the most out of General Manager George McPhee‘s roster, which was mostly built on trades and a mix of 2017 Expansion Draft claims, bringing the Golden Knights all the way to the Stanley Cup Final– in their first season. First postseason. First Western Conference championship. First everything.
Well, almost everything (except the Cup, which I hear Alex Ovechkin is, yep, still attached to it).
He’s also a pending-RFA this summer.
But Vegas doesn’t have to worry about whatever anyone else thinks of them. They’ve already smashed through all the walls that others thought would surely contain them back Earth, yet here they are– with almost $26.500 million to spend this summer.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
McPhee’s Golden Knights do not have a first round pick in the 2018 Draft currently as Vegas packaged a 2018 first round pick, 2019 second round pick and 2021 third round pick at the trade deadline in exchange for Tomas Tatar from the Detroit Red Wings.
Tatar signed a four-year extension with Detroit last offseason and is on Vegas’s books through 2020-21 at a whopping $5.300 million cap hit. I say whopping, because that’s the most expensive cap hit on the roster currently.
Pending free agents
With almost $26.500 million to work with this offseason and some big-time renewals to hand out, McPhee’s work isn’t cut out for him, but the Golden Knights look good heading into 2018-19.
Sure, maybe they won’t get back to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019, but…
Who am I kidding? They’ve defied all logic and we’ll never see an expansion team as good as this one in their inaugural season again. No, not because of any pending changes to future expansion drafts (I’m talking post-Seattle here).
Neal, 30, was an alternate captain this season and 25-19–44 totals in 71 games as a clutch goal-scorer and early face of the franchise. He’ll get top-dollar on the market if he doesn’t re-sign and is the only priority pending-UFA for McPhee to consider bringing back.
Grabovski, 34, is likely to never play in the NHL again, since missing the entire 2016-17 season with ongoing concussion issues.
Perron, 30, was another alternate captain on Vegas’s squad and had 16-50–66 totals in 70 games. His point production was up 20 from last season to this season and he could have some staying power as a playmaker or he could test the waters.
McPhee isn’t rushing to re-sign Neal or Perron because the future’s looking pretty bright with the Golden Knights core, plus the tremendous cap space available that could make Vegas a dark horse for John Tavares, Ilya Kovalchuk or a landing spot for an Erik Karlsson trade.
Reaves, 31, was acquired in a three-team trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators, fitting in on Vegas’s fourth line as a tough guy that scored two important goals in the postseason. He’s a cheap bottom-six forward if McPhee likes grit, otherwise there’ll be other opportunities for Reaves to seek.
Karlsson, 25, is likely to receive the biggest salary on the roster, thanks, in part to his forthcoming raise, but mostly due to his scoring ability. He had 43-35–78 totals in 82 games with the Golden Knights this season and 7-8–15 totals in 20 postseason games.
Nosek, 25, eased into a comfortable seven goals and eight assists (15 points) in 67 games this season, then added another four goals and two assists (six points) in 17 playoff games. By comparison, he’s no William Karlsson, but he is a dependable top-9 forward in his prime.
Likewise, Carrier, 23, is still young and coming into his own as a bottom-six forward that could see more time or about the same number of games this season (37) as next season. For depth purposes alone, Carrier matters a lot to the team.
28-year-old pending-UFA, Luca Sbisa, played a part in 30 regular season games and could remain as a depth defender if he stays, while 33-year-old pending-UFA, Clayton Stoner, is without a doubt searching for a new place to play.
If re-signing Karlsson and his other pending-RFAs is a pretty big deal for McPhee this summer, then so is locking up Colin Miller, 25, and Shea Theodore, 22, to viable contracts that won’t cost an arm and a leg, assuming the top-6 defenders continue to develop and capitalize on career seasons.
In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury, 33, has one-year left on his current deal at $5.750 million and will be looking to sign what might be his last NHL contract next summer, while backup goaltender, Malcolm Subban, 24, is also entering the final year of his $650,000 per year deal.
Subban isn’t likely to overtake Fleury in the next year or two, so both goalies should be back, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, okay? It’s only 2018, not 2019.
Retained salary: Derick Brassard ($2.000 million) through 2018-19.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
After 3,700 total games played (regular season and playoffs) in franchise history, the Washington Capitals will have a chance to hoist the Cup in game #3,701 having defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 6-2 at Capital One Arena on Monday night.
Washington will take a 3-1 series lead heading into Game 5 in Vegas and the Stanley Cup will be in the building if the Capitals win Thursday.
Braden Holtby amassed 28 saves on 30 shots against for a .933 save percentage in the win for Washington, while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 17 out of 23 shots faced for a series low .739 SV% in the loss for the Golden Knights.
On the ensuing Golden Knights power play, Vegas had the Capitals penalty killing unit scrambling, yielding an open net opportunity as Holtby was way out of position— caught up in the mass desperation.
James Neal hit the far right post on a one-timer from the low left slot.
The home crowd erupted as Washington killed off the penalty, despite the lively play of the Golden Knights, but the score remained 0-0.
It only took 32 seconds for the Washington to capitalize on the player advantage as T.J. Oshie (8) buried a rebound to open the scoring in Game 4.
Evgeny Kuznetsov (16) and Nicklas Backstrom (15) had the assists on the goal that only happened thanks to Kuznetsov’s initial shot rebounding off of Fleury and landing on the stick of Oshie as the Capitals winger was crashing the net. The goal was Oshie’s 6th power play goal of the postseason.
About five minutes later, Tom Wilson (5) made it a two-goal game for the Caps.
Washington fought to come away with the puck on an attacking zone faceoff to the right of the Vegas netminder, then worked a quick pass to Wilson in the low slot for a one-timer. Kuznetsov (17) notched his second assist of the night on Wilson’s goal at 16:26 of the first period.
Late in the closing minute of the opening frame, Devante Smith-Pelly (6) cashed in top shelf on a crazy carom and sent Capital One Arena on an ecstatic euphoria never seen before in D.C. hockey history.
After one period, Washington led, 3-0, on the scoreboard, while the Golden Knights actually outshot the Capitals (11-10). The Caps also led in blocked shots (7-3), takeaways (5-4), giveaways (4-3) and faceoff win percentage (64-36), while both teams had 14 hits aside. Vegas was 0/1 on the power play and Washington was 1/1 on the skater advantage after 20 minutes.
Moments later, Wilson delivered a cross check up high to Nate Schmidt. Once again, Vegas failed to score a power play goal.
Late in the second period Neal slashed Holtby and the Capitals went on the power play at 14:45.
Carlson (5) sent a cannon of a slap shot past Fleury and gave Washington four unanswered goals to lead, 4-0. Kuznetsov (18) and Oshie (12) had the assists on Carlson’s power play goal at 15:23 of the second period.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Capitals led, 4-0, on the scoreboard and trailed the Golden Knights, 22-15, in shots on goal. Washington held the advantage in blocked shots (16-6), takeaways (10-7), giveaways (13-4) and faceoff win percentage (54-46), while Vegas led in hits (26-22). The road team Golden Knights were 0/3 on the power play and the home team Capitals were a perfect 2/2 on the man advantage after two periods.
Haula slashed Ovechkin 93 seconds into the third period and handed Washington a power play out of the gate in the final frame, but the Caps misfired for the first time on their special teams play and could not convert on the power play.
Kuznetsov then tripped Haula shortly after the Golden Knights forward made his way out of the box, giving Vegas a power play at 3:42.
One second after the power play ended, Neal (6) brought the puck from the hashmarks to the goal and tucked a shot under the short side arm of Washington’s netminder, ending the shutout opportunity, and cutting the lead to three.
Haula (6) and Miller (3) were credited with the assists on Neal’s goal at 5:43 of the third period and the Golden Knights trailed, 4-1.
With a surge in momentum that came much too late, Reilly Smith (4) made it a two-goal game at 12:26 with his 4th goal of the postseason, assisted by linemate Jon Marchessault (12) and teammate Luca Sbisa (4). Vegas’s improbable comeback had brought them to a 4-2 deficit.
Less than a minute later, Ryan Reaves and Wilson went at each other, subsequently receiving roughing minors and yielding 4-on-4 play at 13:03 of the third period. 36 seconds later, Washington put an end to Vegas’s comeback attempt.
Michal Kempny (2) was left all alone for a one-timer past Fleury as Miller was back-checked by Oshie while the Capitals forward was entering the attacking zone and working the puck over to Backstrom.
Backstrom (16) and Oshie (13) notched the assists on Kempny’s goal at 13:39 and the Caps led, 5-2.
Brooks Orpik was on the receiving end of a reverse check from Vegas early in the series and now Oshie had done it to one of Vegas’s own.
After Nate Schmidt was called for tripping Kuznetsov at 16:57, Oshie was back on the ice for his shift on the power play. Brayden McNabb took liberties on the Washington veteran by delivering a cross check after a stoppage in play at 17:44 of the third.
Oshie and Golden Knights defender, Deryk Engelland, exchanged heated words and shoves, leaving the officials on the ice with no other choice but to start handing out 10-minute misconducts (and that’s just what they did).
Both players involved were sent to the showers a few minutes early.
Brett Connolly (6) made sure to cash in on the resulting 5-on-3 power play opportunity.
Kuznetsov sauced a pass across the low slot— deflecting off of Backstrom— to reach Connolly, where the Capitals clutch depth scoring forward held the puck for a second then fired a shot past Fleury on the short side.
Backstrom (17) and Kuznetsov (19) had the primary and secondary assists on the goal that made it 6-2 at 18:51 of the third period. Kuznetsov became the first player to record four assists in a Stanley Cup Final game since legendary Colorado Avalanche center (and current GM), Joe Sakic, recorded four assists against the Florida Panthers in Game 2 of the 1996 Stanley Cup Final.
Washington’s four-goal lead was enough to seal the deal on a Game 4 victory, but not without one more 10-minute misconduct handed to Reaves at 19:17 of the third.
At the end of 60 minutes, the Capitals had not only taken a 3-1 series lead with a chance to win the Cup in Game 5, but had finished their Game 4 effort leading in blocked shots (24-8) and giveaways (18-7). Vegas finished the night leading in shots on goal (30-23), hits (39-29) and faceoff win percentage (52-48) despite trailing in the faceoff dot for the first two periods.
The Golden Knights went 0/4 on the power play, while the Capitals went 3/5 on the power play in Game 4.
At the start of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, hockey fans were guaranteed a first-time Stanley Cup winner and we’re on the verge of seeing Ovechkin and Co. hoist the Cup for the first time in Washington’s franchise history. Unless Fleury and the Golden Knights can rebound and hold off elimination long enough for a Game 7 on home ice.
Fleury’s series save percentage has dipped below an .855, leading some to wonder why current Vegas backup Maxime Lagace wasn’t utilized just to shake things up in Game 4. But for now both Golden Knights and Caps fans will have to wait until Thursday night for all of their last minute Game 5 storylines and history in the making.
Puck drop in Game 5 is set for a little after 8:00 p.m. ET Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena and viewers can tune in on NBC, CBC, SN or TVAS (depending on your location/viewing preferences).
For the first time in their 43-year franchise history, the Washington Capitals have a Stanley Cup Final victory, having beaten the Vegas Golden Knights on the road 3-2 in Game 2 Wednesday night.
Of course, Vegas notched their first Stanley Cup Final win in their first Stanley Cup Final game in their inaugural season in Game 1, but for Caps fans— some of whom have waited their entire life— this moment has been a long time coming.
Braden Holtby made 37 saves on 39 shots against for Washington, amassing a .949 save percentage en route to the win. Meanwhile, Vegas goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 23 out of 26 shots faced for an .885 SV% in 58:01 time on ice.
T-Mobile Arena’s pregame show included string instruments and a performance by Imagine Dragons as a means of spicing things up for Game 2 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final— fully cranking the energy in the building to 11 (and by a non-expert account, 11 times more than Game 1’s pregame show).
James Neal (5) opened scoring almost halfway into the opening frame on a snapshot that he sniped past Holtby’s glove for the 1-0 lead. Luca Sbisa chipped the puck up ice to Neal who then took it in the attacking zone at full speed and got his shot off quickly.
Sbisa (3) and Colin Miller (2) had the assists on the goal at 7:58 of the first period.
Brayden McNabb caught Evgeny Kuznetsov with a high hit, leaving the Capitals forward hunched over, clutching his left arm. Kuznetsov (11-14—25 totals this postseason) did not return to the action in the first period.
Instead of getting down as a result of losing one of their leading scorers this postseason, Washington pushed back. The Capitals broke in the offensive zone with speed during the 4-on-4 action and nearly tied the game if it weren’t for Alex Ovechkin having flubbed a pass across the ice to an open Nicklas Backstrom.
The puck bounced off of Fleury’s left leg pad with ease as the Golden Knights goaltender kicked it away from his crease. Shortly thereafter, though, Washington would get their second chance— a rare gift of second chances from the hockey gods.
After winning a faceoff in the offensive zone, the Capitals moved the puck quickly around the attacking zone, leading Michal Kempny to pinch in from the point, fake a shot and slide a pass over to a wide-open Lars Eller (6) as Fleury took the bait. Eller capitalized on the mostly empty net with a one-timed redirection and Washington tied the game, 1-1.
Kempny (3) and Andre Burakovsky (2) notched the assists at 17:27 of the first period.
Washington has scored 20 first period goals (the most in the league this postseason) and Vegas scored first in all nine home games this postseason, so it was no surprise heading into the first intermission tied, 1-1.
Similar to Game 1, shots on goal read 11-10, but unlike Game 1 the Capitals held the advantage. Statistically speaking, everything else pretty much read the same. Vegas led in takeaways (10-2), giveaways (7-1) and faceoff win percentage (63-35), while Washington led in blocked shots (3-2) and hits (22-16) after 20 minutes of play. There were no power play opportunities in the first period.
Washington met Vegas on the ice for the second period without Kuznetsov, as the Capitals PR department had informed beat reporters and fans alike that the forward was “questionable” to return to Wednesday night’s action in a tweet.
Brooks Orpik was handed a minor penalty for an illegal check to the head against Golden Knights superstar, James Neal (despite replay showing the Vegas forward might have caught himself in the face with his own arm). Regardless, Vegas went on the power play at 2:04 of the second period and failed to convert on the advantage.
Alex Tuch let emotions get the best of him, cross checking Capitals defender, John Carlson, shortly after the Golden Knights power play expired. Washington went on the power play at 5:13 of the second period and only needed 25 seconds worth of the ensuing advantage.
Quick puck movement back and forth across the ice leading to an eventual pass through the slot from Eller to Ovechkin led to Ovechkin (13) landing the power play goal for Washington, giving the Capitals a 2-1 lead in Game 2— their first lead of the night. Eller (10) and Backstrom (14) had the primary and secondary assist’s on the power play goal at 5:38 of the second period.
Backstrom then took down Vegas forward, Erik Haula, about a minute later with a hold, but both players were sent to the box as Haula picked up an embellishment minor for holding right back. This time, however, the resulting 4-on-4 play did not yield any goals.
Then the unthinkable happened. Brooks Orpik scored.
Jokes aside, it’s been a long time since Orpik last had a goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, let alone regular season and postseason combined. In fact, he broke a 146-game goal-less drought in the postseason and 220-game goal-less drought combined with his shot from the point that beat Fleury thanks to heavy net front traffic.
Orpik (1) made it a 3-1 game for the Capitals with his goal at 9:41 of the second period on just his third career Stanley Cup Playoff goal. Eller (11) and Burakovsky (3) notched the assists.
Ryan Reaves made his physical presence known— perhaps too known— when he was called for roughing against Tom Wilson just past the halfway point of the game. Washington’s power play was short lived, however, as Dmitry Orlov made a great defensive play at the cost of taking a penalty— a minor for hooking Ryan Carpenter as the Golden Knights forward was on a breakaway at 11:42 of the second period.
Vegas would have to wait out 28 seconds of 4-on-4 action until they’d go on the power play. The Golden Knights didn’t convert on the man advantage opportunity, but it wouldn’t be long before they’d get another chance.
After taking a hit in the corner from Miller, Oshie retaliated while the puck was far away from the Vegas blueliner. As a result, the Capitals forward was sent to the sin bin with an interference infraction at 17:27.
The Golden Knights responded on the scoreboard 20-seconds into the ensuing power play as Shea Theodore (3) wired a shot past Holtby with many skaters of both home and away clubs screening the Capitals netminder.
Despite allowing a goal and giving up some momentum, Washington pushed back with a tremendous two-on-one scoring chance from Eller to Jakub Vrana that rang off the post and cast doubt in Vegas’s minds.
Through 40 minutes of action, the Capitals led, 3-2, on the scoreboard. The Golden Knights led in shots on goal (24-20), takeaways (16-4), giveaways (11-1) and faceoff win percentage (60-41), while Washington led in blocked shots (8-4) and hits (35-29) after two periods. The Caps were 1/2 on the power play and Vegas was 1/3 after two periods.
T-Mobile Arena was rocking, despite the home team emerging from the second intermission down, 3-2, for the third period and it looked like Washington was doing everything they could to throw away a solid effort.
Wilson hit McNabb away from the puck, racking up an interference minor at 3:13 of the third period. Shortly thereafter, Eller went to the box for hooking Miller and the Golden Knights wound up with a 5-on-3 advantage for 69 seconds at 4:05.
Vegas couldn’t score.
In fact, Vegas didn’t score for the rest of the game after Theodore’s power play goal late in the second period. Nobody scored.
Not even when— after Tuch elevated the puck on a largely empty net opportunity that was thwarted by a diving stick save made by Holtby with two minutes left in regulation— the Golden Knights pulled their goaltender for an extra skater.
Gerard Gallant used his timeout with 1:59 remaining after Tuch was denied by Holtby to shake it off and rally his players, but it was too little too late as time ticked down to the final horn.
After 60 minutes, the Capitals had evened the series, 1-1, with a 3-2 victory on the road in Game 2. Washington handed the Golden Knights just their third loss this postseason, their second at home and just their first in regulation in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Despite dominating offensive statistics, Vegas couldn’t muster enough high-quality scoring chances to score enough goals to overcome Washington’s lead and win.
Vegas finished the night leading in shots on goal (39-26), giveaways (12-4) and faceoff win percentage (59-42), but the Caps led in the final score (3-2), blocked shots (18-8) and hits (46-39). Both teams scored one power play goal Wednesday night, with Washington (1/2) having operated at a 50% success rate on the man advantage and Vegas (1/5) at 20%.
The series shifts to Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. for Game 3, where the Capitals will have a chance to win their first Stanley Cup Final victory on home ice. Likewise, the Golden Knights will have a chance to steal their first road victory in franchise history in the Stanley Cup Final.
Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 8:00 p.m. ET and viewers can tune in on NBCSN, CBC, SN or TVAS depending on their location (NBCSN in the United States, CBC, SN and TVAS in Canada).
The Vegas Golden Knights had 500-1 odds of winning the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season back in October. Now, they’re just four wins away.
Let’s clarify a few things here:
1. The team has a lot of leadership.
And that’s not doing enough justice to give their head coach, Gerard Gallant, some credit for the way the team’s carried themselves.
2. The team has a lot of playoff experience.
Vegas general manager George McPhee didn’t look for just a bunch of nobody’s. This is Fleury’s fifth appearance in the Stanley Cup Final– and third straight.
Entering this postseason, only the following Golden Knights regulars had zero games of playoff experience– Ryan Carpenter, William Carrier, Tomas Nosek, Malcolm Subban (their backup goaltender, not likely to see any playing time with Fleury existing) and Alex Tuch.
Fleury (115 games), Neal (80), Perron (42), Ryan Reaves (36), Engelland (28), Erik Haula (24), Nate Schmidt (21), Luca Sbisa (20) and Shea Thoedore (20) all had at least 20 games of playoff experience coming into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Reaves, of course, was acquired prior to the trade deadline. Primarily for his scoring prowess in an elimination game, obviously. Wait.
3. The 2017 Expansion Draft was not rigged.
Nobody told Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon he had to a) leave Marchessault exposed and b) trade Reilly Smith to Vegas to ensure they wouldn’t select someone other than Marchessault at the Expansion Draft.
Let’s reword that a bit.
Marchessault was left exposed and the Panthers did not specify that he was untouchable as part of the Smith deal. Florida encouraged Vegas to take on Smith’s $5.000 million cap hit through the 2021-22 season after one down year with the Panthers.
The Golden Knights were the scapegoat for salary cap mismanagement by other NHL teams and everyone thought Vegas wouldn’t turn out to be this way.
Fleury was assured of being selected by McPhee and Co. thanks to Pittsburgh’s tight cap after winning back-to-back Cups along with their goaltending situation in which Matt Murray had rightfully taken the starting goaltender role. The Penguins even sent a 2018 second round pick in the trade to persuade Vegas to select Fleury in the Expansion Draft instead of a guy like Brian Dumoulin.
A happy accident– or more accurately, superb scouting and foresight. That same scouting led to nailing more than one needle in a haystack.
Alex Tuch? Traded by the Minnesota Wild to Vegas as part of an agreement that McPhee would select Erik Haula.
The Anaheim Ducks traded Theodore to Vegas so the Golden Knights would take Clayton Stoner and not one of Anaheim’s young core players of the future.
Finally, the talent pool is better than ever before. The Golden Knights were bound to stockpile a few good players as a result of stacked rosters (in theory) across the 30 other NHL clubs.
McPhee also worked the phones and made more than a few trades and depth signings in free agency.
Maxime Lagace and Oscar Dansk were both free agent signings that held things over for Vegas in the net while Fleury and Subban were injured for almost the first quarter of the regular season. Dansk went down with an injury himself four games into the Golden Knights third-string goaltending emergency relief plan.
When the Golden Knights turned to Dylan Ferguson in goal it was only possible because of McPhee’s deal with the Dallas Stars in which defender Marc Methot, who was claimed at the Expansion Draft by Vegas, was flipped to Dallas for Ferguson and a 2020 second round pick.
Not every selection made by Vegas in the 2017 Expansion Draft suited up for the Golden Knights.
Trevor van Riemsdyk was packaged with a 2018 seventh round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for Pittsburgh’s 2017 second round pick (Jake Leschyshyn).
David Schlemko was flipped to the Montreal Canadiens for a 2019 fifth round pick.
Alexei Emelin was sent to the Nashville Predators for a 2018 third round pick.
Despite appearing in preseason action for Vegas, last season’s backup goaltender with the Colorado Avalanche– turned AHL backup goaltender with the Toronto Marlies this season– Calvin Pickard was dealt to the Maple Leafs for a 2018 sixth round pick and Tobias Lindberg.
Pickard’s trade was spurned by McPhee finding a better backup goaltender at no cost to the organization– Malcolm Subban.
Subban was claimed off waivers from Boston after the Bruins waited a few days after waivers went into effect to decide on sending him to Providence.
Ryan Carpenter? Another claim off waivers– midseason— from the San Jose Sharks.
It’s a professional league. It’s a free market. Something, something, stop complaining because your team has a history of letting you down. The Golden Knights will let their fans down in time, just like every other professional sports franchise in the history of all major professional North American sports.
But for now, why not enjoy the ride?
They swept a 1967 expansion team in the First Round, they defeated a 1990s expansion team in the Second Round and now they’ve beaten a late-1990s expansion franchise that relocated to Winnipeg in 2011 for the Western Conference championship.
There’s never going to be another run quite like this and if it ends in a Stanley Cup championship maybe we should all meet in Vegas for the afterparty. Celebrate the sport.
The house always wins in Vegas and that was once again apparent as the Vegas Golden Knights took down the Winnipeg Jets, 4-2, on Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena.
The Golden Knights lead the 2018 Western Conference Final, 2-1, thanks to the efforts of Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal and their superstar since the 2017 Expansion Draft, Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 3.
For the first time in about nine weeks, the Jets have lost back-to-back games (dating back to a string of three losses in mid-March during the regular season).
Fleury made 33 saves on 35 shots against for a .943 save percentage in the win, while Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck stopped 26 shots out of 29 shots faced for an .897 SV% in 58:58 time on ice in the loss.
Quick goals were a theme Wednesday night as Jonathan Marchessault (7) kicked things off with a beautiful backhand goal, beating Hellebuyck with just a tap-in after the Jets netminder overcommitted 35 seconds into the action.
Brayden McNabb (2) had the only assist on the goal and the Golden Knights led, 1-0.
After taking a wild elbow to the face from a Winnipeg defender, James Neal left the ice for a short period of time in the first period. Neal would return by the end of the opening frame and proved to be a key component in Game 3 in the second period.
Erik Haula served a minor penalty for tripping about midway through the first period and the Jets did not convert on the ensuing power play.
Vegas was unable to convert on two man advantage opportunities of their own late in the third (Josh Morrissey for holding at 14:50 and Mathieu Perreault for tripping at 19:35 of the first period, respectively).
After one period of play, the Golden Knights led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and 10-3 in shots on goal. Vegas also led in takeaways (6-0), giveaways (5-1) and faceoff win percentage (71-29), while Winnipeg led in blocked shots (8-5) and hits (18-9). Both teams had yet to convert on the power play as the Jets were 0/1 and the Golden Knights were 0/2 after the first period.
Winnipeg opened scoring in the second period with a nifty deflection by Mark Scheifele (13) on a shot from Blake Wheeler at the goal line to the left of Fleury. Scheifele’s deflection beat the Vegas netminder on the short side and tied the game, 1-1, at 5:28 of the second period as the Jets looked to soar.
Wheeler (16) had the only assist on the goal and the game did not remain tied for long.
Not long at all, as 12 seconds after the Jets tied it, the Golden Knights untied it with a goal of their own from none other than James Neal.
Neal (4) pocketed the puck in the twine after Hellebuyck butchered a chance to handle the puck and promptly turned it over to Vegas forward, Erik Haula. Haula quickly threw the piece of vulcanized rubber in front of the goal where Neal was awaiting and Vegas took the lead, 2-1, at 5:40 of the second period.
Haula (4) had the only assist on the goal.
Less than three minutes later the Golden Knights were at it again with the same basic principle— get the puck down low, toss it to the guy in front of the net in the low slot, one-time it/deflect it and score.
So it came as no surprise when Neal collected his own rebound, then wrapped around the goal only to toss the puck to Alex Tuch (5) in the low slot for the redirection into the twine. Vegas had a two-goal lead just like that at 8:13 of the second period. Neal (5) and Nate Schmidt (4) were credited with the primary and secondary assists and the Golden Knights led, 3-1.
About a minute later, Scheifele slashed McNabb and the home team went on the power play. Unfortunately for T-Mobile Arena goers, the Golden Knights did not score a goal on the ensuing power play.
Moments later, Vegas defender, Luca Sbisa, was guilty of holding Perreault and was sent to the sin bin. Winnipeg did not convert on the ensuing player advantage at 14:39 of the second period.
In the closing minutes of the second frame, a scrum resulted after the whistle had been blown on a routine cover up by Fleury. Every skater on the ice grabbed a hold of an opponent and exchanged some pleasantries while Fleury tickled Wheeler’s ear and Jets defender, Dustin Byfuglien latched on to two Golden Knights at once.
Scheifele, Ryan Carpenter, Wheeler and Cody Eakin were all sent to the box for their respective teams with matching roughing minors at 17:26 of the second period so there was no change in strength on the ice.
Through 40 minutes of play, Vegas held on to a 3-1 lead over Winnipeg. The Golden Knights still had advantages in shots on goal (22-19), blocked shots (14-13), takeaways (11-2), giveaways (8-4) and faceoff win percentage (51-49), while the Jets led in hits (38-24) after two periods. Neither team had scored on the power play, as Winnipeg was 0/2 and Vegas was 0/3 entering the second intermission.
Winnipeg came out strong in the third period.
So strong, in fact, that the Jets scored in the first 18 seconds of the period as Scheifele (14) scored his second goal of the night emulating Tuch on his goal for the Golden Knights.
The Jets won the opening faceoff of the third period and worked the puck down low in the attacking zone, where Kyle Connor then found Scheifele sneaking behind Vegas’s defense in open ice for a one-timer past Fleury as the Golden Knights goalie had to stretch across the crease.
Connor (7) and Wheeler (17) had the assists on the goal and Winnipeg pulled to within one, as the Golden Knights two-goal lead diminished to a 3-2 lead with plenty of time left in regulation.
Scheifele’s second goal of the night set an NHL record for most road goals in a postseason (11), previously held by Sidney Crosby (with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009) and Joe Mullen (with the Calgary Flames in 1989), who each had 10 road goals in their respective postseason runs.
Coincidentally, both the 2009 Penguins and 1989 Flames won the Stanley Cup.
The Jets dominated the pace of play throughout the third period, as Fleury was auditioning for a role in Cirque du Soleil by seemingly standing on his head making save-after-save for Vegas.
Fleury’s play culminated in a split across the crease followed by a desperation dive to deny Winnipeg of two quality scoring chances that for sure would have tied the game otherwise if it were not for Fleury’s superhuman ability.
After Hellebuyck covered the puck for a faceoff, Paul Maurice called a timeout to gather his team, draw up a plan and rally a way to forcing the issue.
Instead, Maruice’s Jets were no match for Gerard Gallant’s Golden Knights as the Winnipeg netminder was finally able to vacate the net with about a minute left in regulation.
Despite two blown chances at the empty net with about 25 seconds left in Game 3, Marchessault (8) was the one to get the job done on a wraparound with 2.7 seconds left in the game.
The Golden Knights forward beat out the icing call, raced to the puck and put it away for a 4-2 victory in Game 3 and a 2-1 series lead as McNabb (3) and Fleury (1) picked up the assists. Yes, Fleury fittingly got an assist on the empty net goal.
At the final horn, Adam Lowry mixed things up a bit with Ryan Reaves and the rest of the skaters on the ice as both teams found partners in case they needed to go square dancing, but the linesmen got things under control after a shoving match and Vegas celebrated their victory.
Entering Wednesday, Winnipeg had not lost back-to-back games this postseason, nor had they trailed in a series. Until now.
After 60 minutes of play, the Golden Knights walked away with the 4-2 win and an advantage in faceoff win percentage (52-48). The Jets finished the night leading in shots on goal (35-30) and hits (48-41). There were no penalties called in the third period.
Game 4 is scheduled for Friday night at T-Mobile Arena with puck drop a little after 8 p.m. ET. Viewers in the United States can tune in once again to NBCSN, while fans in Canada can catch the action on CBC, SN1 or TVAS.
Three unanswered goals almost eight minutes into the first period held up over the rest of the game, Saturday night at Bell MTS Place as the Winnipeg Jets beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 in Game 1 of the 2018 Western Conference Final.
Connor Hellebuyck made 19 saves on 21 shots faced for a .905 save percentage in the win for the Jets, while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 22 shots out of 26 shots against for an .846 SV% in 57:21 time on ice in the loss for Vegas.
It didn’t take long for Winnipeg’s home-ice advantage to kick in as Dustin Byfuglien (5) blasted a slap shot past Fleury 65 seconds into the action Saturday night, giving the Jets a 1-0 lead.
Not long after, Alex Tuch took the game’s first penalty— a minor for hooking Winnipeg’s Bryan Little— and the Golden Knights found themselves shorthanded against one of the best power play units in this postseason.
Wheeler worked a cross-ice pass through the low slot to Patrik Laine on the ensuing player advantage and Laine (4) promptly sent a one-timer past Fleury to give the Jets a two-goal lead. Wheeler (14) and Paul Stastny (9) had the assists on the goal at 6:49 of the first period and Winnipeg led, 2-0.
Less than a minute later, the Jets worked another one past the Vegas netminder on a deflection thanks to the skates of Joel Armia (2).
Though the goal was originally waved off, after review (courtesy of a coach’s challenge) it was determined there was no goaltender interference and the call on the ice was overturned. In the eyes of the situation room, Armia had not entered the crease and interfered with Fleury’s ability to make a save too close to receiving/deflecting the puck anyway, despite the fact that Armia had bumped into the Golden Knights goalie prior to scoring.
Nevertheless, Ben Chiarot (3) had the only assist on the goal and the Jets led, 3-0, at 7:35 of the first period.
Fleury and the Golden Knights had allowed three goals on eight shots against in less than eight minutes into the action.
Despite this, Vegas was determined to get one of their own past Hellebuyck and begin the slow climb back on the scoreboard.
Jonathan Marchessault worked the puck from behind the goal line back to Brayden McNabb (2) as the Vegas blueliner snuck in the attacking zone on a delayed call against the Jets. McNabb quickly fired a shot that deflected off of Winnipeg rookie Kyle Connor’s stick and behind Hellebuyck, high-glove side.
The Golden Knights cut the lead to two and Marchessault (8) and Reilly Smith (11) notched the assists on McNabb’s goal at 8:10 of the first period. Winnipeg led, 3-1, and the home crowd was unfazed.
In fact, Jets fans continued taunting Fleury with Bronx cheers for every save and the introduction of the phrase “we want Subban” (as in, Golden Knights backup goaltender, Malcolm Subban) to their lexicon.
Winnipeg’s captain, Blake Wheeler, however, took a trip into the away bench on a hit delivered from Golden Knights tough guy, Ryan Reaves. Vegas, to their credit, did help Wheeler get back on his feet after flipping head first over the boards.
Past the halfway mark in the first period, Erik Haula slashed Laine and the Jets went on their second power play of the night. It was not as successful as their first man advantage of the game and the Golden Knights generated a couple quality shorthanded scoring chances.
Jets defender, Jacob Trouba, interfered with Tuch at 16:51 of the first period and the Golden Knights went on the power play for the first time, but did not convert on the ensuing advantage.
After one period, Winnipeg led, 3-1, on the scoreboard and 2:1 in shots on goal (12-6). Both teams had blocked five shots each, while Vegas had an advantage in hits (18-13) and Winnipeg led in takeaways (3-0), giveaways (7-5) and faceoff win percentage (72-28). The Golden Knights were 0/1 on the power play and the Jets were 1/2 on the advantage after 20 minutes of play.
Four players took matching minor penalties for roughing just over five minutes into the second period as things heated up on the ice after the whistle. Colin Miller, Oscar Lindberg, Mathieu Perreault and Brandon Tanev each went to the sin bin for their respective sides and play remained even at 5-on-5.
McNabb hooked Wheeler on a breakaway at 9:10 of the second period as Wheeler shot the puck wide through the crease while Fleury was in desperation save mode.
The Jets didn’t waste much time on the player advantage before converting as it only took 44 seconds for Scheifele (12) to redirect a shot from the point by Byfuglien past Fleury to make it a three-goal game.
Scheifele’s goal on the power play came at 9:54 of the second period and made it, 4-1, Winnipeg. Byfuglien (10) and Wheeler (15) had the assists, capping off a three-assist night for Wheeler.
Late in the period, Chiarot tripped James Neal and the Golden Knights went on the power play with just under five minutes to go until the second intermission.
William Karlsson (5) redirected a pass from Marchessault into the twine and cut the lead to two at 15:55 of the second period. Marchessault (9) and Shea Theodore (4) notched the assists on the power play goal for Vegas that made it, 4-2.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Jets were in control, 4-2, on the scoreboard and, 22-13, in shots on goal. Winnipeg also led in blocked shots (13-7), hits (27-25), takeaways (8-1), giveaways (10-9) and faceoff win percentage (62-38). The Golden Knights were 1/2 on the power play while Winnipeg was 2/3 on the man advantage after two periods.
Reaves tripped Adam Lowry early in the third period, but the Jets did not convert on the ensuing advantage in the only penalty called in the game’s final frame.
Neither team found the back of the twine as the Golden Knights frantically searched for a way to score two goals to tie the game, having pulled their goaltender with about 2:35 remaining in regulation.
Gerard Gallant used his team’s only timeout at the next stoppage in play to try to draw up a plan, but Vegas’s best efforts were no match for Paul Maurice’s Winnipeg Jets, despite Winnipeg’s inability to land a shot in the empty net.
At the final horn the Jets had won, 4-2, and jumped out to a 1-0 series lead in sheer dominance in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.
Winnipeg finished the night leading in shots on goal (26-21), blocked shots (22-10), hits (33-30), giveaways (14-11), and faceoff win percentage (56-44). Both teams went .500 on the power play as the Jets went 2/4 and Vegas went 1/2 on the man advantage.
Game 2 is Monday night in Winnipeg, where the Bell MTS Centre crowd looks to energize their team to a 2-0 series lead. Puck drop is set for a little after 8:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in on NBCSN, while fans in Canada can catch the action on CBC, SN or TVAS.