LAS VEGAS —Well, that was fun.
We all knew the second round Stanley Cup Playoffs series between the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights was going to be exciting. And if the rest of the series is going to be anything like Wednesday’s Game 1 at T-Mobile Arena, we’re in for a hell of a run.
The Knights did just enough things right in holding off the Oilers, 6-4, in front of 18,243 to take the first of the best-of-seven series. Game 2 is Saturday afternoon, giving both participants and spectators time to regroup and re-energize.
“We had our legs,” Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said. “The question was would we lose our competitive edge? But we managed the puck well for a team that hadn’t played in a competitive environment for almost a week.”
Vegas was able to somewhat contain Connor McDavid, hockey’s best player. McDavid was limited to just two assists. But Leon Draisaitl was another story. The German star scored four times, including one from the other side of the goal line that he managed to bank off the shoulder of goaltender Laurent Brossoit and into the net.
He nearly singlehandedly won the game for Edmonton Wednesday and Knights coach Bruce Cassidy and his staff better figure out a way to slow Draisaitl down. He leads the NHL in playoff scoring with 11 goals in just seven games.
“Credit to 29,” Cassidy said of Draisaitl’s exploits. “He’s a great hockey player. I’m not surprised he did that.”
Fortunately for Vegas, its roadmap to success was to get contributions up and down the lineup. Ivan Barbashev had a couple of goals. Michael Amadio scored. So did Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone as the latter pair continued to make sweet music on the ice together. In all, 11 different Golden Knights contributed to the stat sheet offensively.
“I think overall we played a good game,” said center William Karlsson, who had an assist on Amadio’s first-period goal which gave Vegas a 2-1 lead.
The other parts to winning Game 1 were the strong play up the middle by the centers and outplaying the Oilers in 5-on-5 hockey. Whether it was winning faceoffs at key moments, helping on the forecheck to keep pucks alive in the Edmonton end or racing back to assist their defensemen, Karlsson, Stephenson, Jack Eichel and Nicolas Roy managed to get it done.
“We knew it was important for us to compete with them,” Stephenson said of the four centers’ responsibilities. “We want to roll the lines and not match; have anybody go against anybody.”
As for dominating the Oilers at even strength, it may have been the depth that helped the Knights. Edmonton dressed only 11 forwards and that number dropped to 10 when Mattias Janmark was injured early in the first period and the former Golden Knight did not return.
“We didn’t have to get too far away from our line combinations,” Cassidy said. “We feel if our team plays well we can have success.”
Defenseman Zach Whitecloud, who had a pair of assists, said: “They’ve got guys up and down the lineup who can hurt you. For us, it’s about paying attention to the details of the game.”
The Knights managed to do that for the most part. But the Oilers can still kill you when they have the man advantage so playing with discipline is going to remain an important component the rest of the way. Remember, this is a team that scored 56 percent of the time on the power play in the first round in eliminating the Los Angeles Kings.
Roy took a hooking penalty in the neutral zone in the second period and Alex Pietrangelo was given a penalty for roughing at the end of the second following a skirmish in his end.
But despite the Oilers cashing in two of the three times they had the man advantage, they weren’t able to take control as the Knights’ play at even strength turned out to be the deciding factor. When they needed the proper response, they got it, particularly from Barbashev, who answered two Edmonton goals of Draisaitl’s with two of his own.
“He’s a veteran who’s been in big games before,” Cassidy said of Barbashev, who owns a Stanley Cup championship ring from his time in St. Louis. “He’s not afraid to go to the dirty areas and make a play.”
Cassidy expects it to be a long series, one with lots of goals scored.
“They obviously have talented players, but so do we,” Cassidy said.