LAS VEGAS — I’m pretty sure the Vegas Golden Knights were aware of the schedule change made by the NHL that had Game 2 of their second-round Stanley Cup Playoff series with the Edmonton Oilers moved from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.
But I’m not sure who the guys were skating in the sparkling gold sweaters. It sure wasn’t the team that dominated in winning Game 1 Wednesday. The impersonators who took the ice in front of 18,504 at T-Mobile Arena didn’t come close to resembling the Golden Knights and it showed as the Oilers scored three times in the first 8:49, added a fourth goal with 3:43 to go in the opening period and handed the Knights a 5-1 beatdown, evening the series at one game apiece.
Game 3 is Monday night in Edmonton.
“I don’t know if they were more physical but they certainly wanted to play better,” Knights captain Mark Stone said. “ They said they didn’t bring their best game in Game 1 and we didn’t bring our best (Saturday).”
Perhaps by hitting the road, the Knights’ players can get back into their normal routine, get their naps in, not make trips to the store or whatever it was they were doing out of the ordinary Saturday.
They still haven’t figured out how to slow down, much less stop Leon Draisaitl, who is simply playing out of his mind. The German veteran had two of the four first-period goals and has 13 goals in eight playoff games.
And obviously Connor McDavid got tired of playing second fiddle to his linemate. The man they call “McJesus” up in Edmonton scored a sensational shorthanded goal, picking Shea Theodore’s pocket, going in with Theodore draped all over him, and then nudging the puck past Laurent Brossoit, who, suffice to say had as tough an opening 20 minutes as he’s probably had his entire NHL career. McDavid also scored a power-play goal in the second period and finished with a three-point performance in Game 2.
Brossoit was mercifully pulled for Adin Hill at the start of the third period and Hill stopped all four shots he faced while Ivan Barbashev spoiled Stuart Skinner’s shutout bid 1:36 into the final stanza. But it was of little consolation for the Knights.
“They were ready to play and we weren’t,” Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said. “That’s on me as the coach. I have to do a better job.
“We seemed to get out-teammated for lack of a better term. We have a good spirit in our room and I expect us to get back to executing the way we know how.”
The Knights were about as competitive Saturday as Derma Sotokage, the sensational Japanese 3-year-old colt who showed up at Churchill Downs in name only after finishing up the track a well-beaten sixth in the Kentucky Derby.
Let’s save the excuses, shall we? The change of date and time for Game 2 had nothing to do with Vegas’ deplorable performance. The Knights were chasing this game virtually from the opening puck drop. They were outhit early and often as the Oilers smartly established a physical presence, one I’m sure they will look to carry into Game 3 and beyond, much like Carolina has done in holding its 2-0 series lead over New Jersey in the Eastern Conference semis.
Besides, the Oilers had to show up at 4 p.m. too. Apparently, they got the memo. Oh, and they got to spend an extra night in town with the schedule change. Didn’t look like the vaunted Vegas Flu got to them, did it?
The Knights continue to parade to the penalty box and give Edmonton more opportunities to show off its high-octane power play, which is looking more and more unstoppable with each appearance. Vegas took 16 penalties and accumulated 70 minutes.
“We have to be more disciplined and not give them as many opportunities on the power play,” Knights forward Reilly Smith said of the Oilers, who were 3 for 6 with the man advantage Saturday and are 5 for 9 in the first two games. “We give them two power-play goals and now you’re playing catch-up.”
The worst part of this from the Golden Knights perspective? They had early control of this series. They had played so well throughout in Game 1, save for containing Draisaitl, who scored four times. They looked like a team ready to take that next step and build off the momentum from the 6-4 win Wednesday and hold serve at home.
Instead, they’ll have to find a way to shake this off, regroup and find a way to get their footing back amid a boisterous crowd at Rogers Place which will no doubt make their presence felt.
Cassidy likes to brag how he has a veteran team that is adaptable and can handle playoff pressure. Perhaps that team will be on the plane to Canada Sunday. Because it sure as hell wasn’t the one we saw on the ice Saturday.
“We’ve been a good road team all year,” Stone said. “I’m sure we’ll be ready to go.”
They better be. Or when they return to T-Mobile Arena for Game 5 next Friday, it could be for the last time.