Monday, May 24, 2021 | 2 a.m.
The Golden Knights have a chance to do something tonight against the Wild that they haven’t done in franchise history: Clinch a playoff series at home.
They’ve won five series all-time, but the clinching games came in Los Angeles, San Jose and Winnipeg in the inaugural season of 2017-18, and two in the Edmonton bubble last year.
The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. in Game at T-Mobile Arena with the Golden Knights holding a 3-1 series advantage.
Here are three keys to ending the series tonight.
The Golden Knights gave up the first goal in the first three games of the series, and trailed 2-0 after the first period in Game 3. They won two of those games.
Vegas has shown a knack for coming back this season, as evidenced by its 6-9-1 record when trailing after two periods — a number that doesn’t seem great, but more impressive when considering the Wild were 5-13-2 in that situation.
Coach Pete DeBoer half-joked the other day that he’s going to stop talking about fast starts considering just how poor the first periods were in Games 2 and 3.
There’s always the chance Minnesota scores first tonight. The Wild will be desperate to stave off elimination, knowing if they can steal Game 5 in Vegas they’ll get Game 6 at home. Win that and who knows what will happen in a Game 7.
That’s another aspect of the not panicking. The Golden Knights have held a 3-1 series three times in the last two years and two of those required a Game 7, including the infamous 2019 collapse against the Sharks when Vegas surrendered four goals in the third period and fell in overtime.
The Golden Knights can’t allow a Wild team with its back to the wall grab a lead and keep it. It matters less if the Golden Knights score first and more that they don’t allow the Wild to ride any momentum generated from an early goal.
Vegas took command of the series on Saturday in Game 4 with a 4-0 victory. While the score would indicate a dominating performance, a closer look at the stats reveals only 18 shots by the Golden Knights. That’s the fewest shots it has ever had in a postseason game, and a formula for a losing in Game 5.
The easy explanation is that the Golden Knights capitalized on what few chances they had on Saturday. Mark Stone and Alex Tuch each created breakaways for their goals, and Nicolas Roy’s second goal was against an empty net.
On the other end, Vegas allowed 35 Minnesota shots to force goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to once again be brilliant. While Fleury answered the challenge, the Golden Knights simply can’t rely on their goalie to maintain his current .966 playoff save percentage.
The Golden Knights need to return to what makes them on the league’s best teams in keeping the puck away from the opposition and peppering repeated shots on goal.
Keep Minnesota’s best players in check
Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov will likely win the Calder Trophy as the league’s Rookie of the Year by a large margin, but he’s been kept in check with just one assist this series. Kevin Fiala had 20 goals and 40 points in the regular season, but has yet to record a point against Vegas.
The Golden Knights’ defense has stepped up, sometimes from unexpected places. While Vegas has used the William Karlsson line as the primary defense against Karizov’s line, the fourth line of William Carrier, Patrick Brown and Ryan Reaves neutralized him in Games 3 and 4 to the tune of 0.13 on-ice expected goals at 5-on-5. When the fourth line is shutting down a player like Kaprizov, it allows Vegas’ other lines to play without the rookie sensation on the ice.
The Golden Knights have continued to struggle against the Wild’s line of Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno. Those three have three of the four highest expected-goals figures of any player in the series, including an eye-popping 76%, mostly against the Stone line and Shea Theodore pairing.
And while the Golden Knights haven’t been able to completely blank Eriksson Ek and his line, they’ve been able to contain them with just two goals and six points — not exactly game-breaking.
All possession and expected-goals numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.