John Locher / Associated Press
Published Saturday, May 6, 2023 | 7:05 p.m.
Updated 23 minutes ago
There’s 2:18 remaining in the second period, and a melee ensues.
It starts at center ice with Golden Knights forward Brett Howden and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Brett Kulak dropping the gloves. More fisticuffs take place in the top left corner of the rink where Keegan Kolesar is getting drilled in the mid-section by Edmonton’s Evander Kane.
Referee Kelly Sutherland stands by and watches, notebook in hand, as Kane continues after the whistle.
That sequence isn’t why the Golden Knights lost 5-1 in Game 2 of their second-round series to the Oilers on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena, tying the series at a game apiece. The technicalities of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl taking over on the power play more than did the damage there.
But the barrage of goals for Edmonton wasn’t the worst part of the night for Bruce Cassidy.
“You’re going to have nights you’re going to get out-executed, especially against this team,” said the Golden Knights’ coach. “They were more competitive, but we got sort of out-teammated for lack of a better term. That’s disappointing. It should never happen to the Vegas Golden Knights.”
The Golden Knights knew the pushback from the Oilers was coming. This was more than a push. More than a shove.
After falling behind early thanks to a four-goal onslaught in the first period, they got punched in the mouth, and then some.
The frustration was evident, ranging from Cassidy to the locker room, that the Golden Knights didn’t do enough to stand up for Kolesar, someone the Golden Knights view as the one who stands up for his teammates on nearly every occasion that calls for it.
It was still frustrating for Mark Stone to see Sutherland standing within feet of Kolesar getting leveled without doing anything.
“The ref’s standing right there. We only got four guys, they got five, and the refs are just standing there letting him get hit,” Stone said. “You never want to see a teammate getting suckered down like that, especially for a guy who’s stuck up for his teammates like he has all year. We would’ve liked to see the refs do a little more of their job to help Keegan.”
More importantly from an on-ice perspective, the Oilers tied the best-of-7 series 1-1 with the series shifting to Alberta for Game 3 on Monday.
The Golden Knights knew they weren’t going to sweep the Oilers. As long as McDavid and Draisaitl keep skating, the Oilers are never out of anything.
Edmonton’s superstars set the tone in Game 2. McDavid and Draisaitl each scored twice time with the two providing three of the Oilers’ four goals in the first period.
The Oilers’ first two goals came by way of the power play — one by Draisaitl, the other by Evan Bouchard — and McDavid contributed with a shorthanded goal in the first 11:11 of the game.
Cassidy said the responsibility falls on the coaching staff for not having the Golden Knights ready to start.
“They were a lot better than us. They were ready to play. We weren’t, for whatever reason,” Cassidy said.
Draisaitl, who had four goals in Game 1, opened the scoring 2:21 into the game on a power-play goal. Much like in Game 1, the Golden Knights committed a penalty less than two minutes into the game. This time, Brayden McNabb’s cross-checking infraction resulted in Draisaitl’s goal.
Bouchard scored Edmonton’s second power-play goal at 7:01 for a 2-0 lead after a high-sticking penalty called on Zach Whitecloud.
Draisaitl added his second — his 13th of the playoffs and sixth of the series — at 16:17 to extend Edmonton’s lead to 4-0.
The Oilers, who had a record-setting power play during the regular season at 32.4%, are 5 for 9 in the series on the man advantage after a 3 for 6 outing on Saturday. McDavid, who led to the league with 64 goals in the regular season, scored 11:43 into the second to make 5-0.
Vegas’ best chance in this series, as it showed in Game 1, is keeping the game at 5-on-5. It’s easier said than done against Edmonton’s power play, but Cassidy reaffirms the need to be better when shorthanded.
“They were better than us in special teams. Whatever the penalties were, it doesn’t matter. They scored on them,” Cassidy said. “We’ve got to find a way to A) limit those, and B) doing a better job at killing them. Which is not an easy task. We know that.”
The Golden Knights got on the board 1:36 into the third on Ivan Barbashev’s third goal of the series, but that was all they could generate.
Laurent Brossoit made 27 saves on 32 shots before being pulled for Adin Hill in the third. While five goals against will look bad on paper, falling behind in that fashion was far from Brossoit’s fault.
The Golden Knights entered the postseason as the least-penalized team in the league (273 penalties), but that hasn’t mattered at all to the Oilers. Edmonton has found a way to capitalize, even in moments where the structure within Vegas’ penalty-killing unit was good.
“We’re doing a lot of good things on the kill, but they’re dynamic,” Stone said.
Now, the Golden Knights go on the road. In hindsight, that’s a good thing. Vegas was one of the best road teams in the regular season (26-7-8) and swept Games 3 and 4 in Winnipeg in the first round. There’s reason to feel confident there.
Obvious as it may seem, the Jets aren’t the Oilers. They’ve converted on their chances. They currently have the hottest goal scorer on the planet. All signs point to the pendulum swinging back to the Oilers favor heading home after a split.
Cassidy is confident that the execution and the compete level will come back for the Golden Knights, much like it did in the Winnipeg series, but the team-togetherness needs to return above anything else.
“You’re not going to win if you’re not going to play as a team,” Cassidy said. “The competitive spirit that’s in our group was not here today. It’ll come back.”
Danny Webster can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected] Follow Danny on Twitter at twitter.com/DannyWebster21.