Sunday, May 14, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Alex Pietrangelo was a nervous wreck.
He didn’t know how to react while he watched his teammates play their most crucial game of the season, thus far, without him.
“Sitting there (Friday) night watching the game, I was sweating,” Pietrangelo said. “It’s not fun. You want to be out there playing.”
The result came in one of the Golden Knights’ best defensive games of this series against the Edmonton Oilers, winning 4-3 in Game 5 at home on Friday and taking a 3-2 series lead. Vegas has a chance to clinch the series in Sunday’s Game 6 at Rogers Place in northern Alberta (7 p.m., ESPN).
The Golden Knights will have Pietrangelo back as they try to secure a spot in the Western Conference Final for the fourth time in their six-season history. Pietrangelo served a one-game suspension in Game 5 for slashing Oilers star Leon Draisaitl.
“I’ll take it as an extra day to get some rest and get ready for (Sunday),” he said.
But in a series in which no team has won consecutive games yet, that’s the challenge that sits in front of the Golden Knights. Vegas won 5-1 in Game 3 before Edmonton responded with a 4-1 win in Game 4 at home.
If the Golden Knights want to advance, then finding an answer for Edmonton’s pushback is the priority.
“That’s the challenge for us, as well,” coach Bruce Cassidy said, “to make sure we want to be the better first-period team up there. Whether that results in a lead for us, who knows?”
One of the Golden Knights’ most important stretches of the season came with Pietrangelo out. He missed nine games from Nov. 28-Dec. 15 while his 4-year-old daughter Evelyn was in the hospital battling encephalitis, a swelling of the brain.
That run included winning three games on a four-game road trip featuring victories over the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins — long known as two of the league’s powerhouses.
Making his first appearance since April 27, Ben Hutton played just 12:24 in Pietrangelo’s absence, but his reliability when he’s played hasn’t gone unnoticed. There were times like Friday when he was added because of power-play purposes — he patrolled the second power-play unit in Game 5, playing 1:51 with the man advantage — and there were times he would contribute offensively, as well. He had eight points in 31 regular-season games after collecting 13 points in 59 games with Vegas last season.
“Every time he’s stepped into the lineup, he’s played well,” Pietrangelo said. “It’s not easy to come in at this part of the season and play, especially against a high-offensive team, but he did a great job.”
Game 4 marked the first time the Golden Knights failed to control the game at 5-on-5. The Oilers had just one power-play goal in the contest and took control early with three first-period goals, two coming at even strength.
The Golden Knights played the better 5-on-5 game Wednesday, but the Oilers’ power play recorded three power-play goals, two of them from Connor McDavid to give him seven in the postseason.
For the first time in this series, the Golden Knights won the special teams battle when it mattered in Game 5.
Vegas took control with two power-play goals from Mark Stone and Reilly Smith 29 seconds apart in the second period to take a 3-2 lead at 14:34 of the middle period. Nic Hague’s goal a minute later extended the Golden Knights’ lead.
With 24 seconds to play in the second period, Vegas’ Keegan Kolesar was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding Edmonton’s Mattias Ekholm. The Golden Knights, though, came through without Pietrangelo, one of the team’s better penalty killers. McDavid beat Adin Hill 2:40 into the final frame, but neither team was able to score after that.
“You’ve got to be proud of the penalty killers for stepping up in that moment,” Pietrangelo said.
The Oilers will also have Darnell Nurse back after serving a one-game suspension for instigating a fight within the final five minutes of Game 4 in Edmonton. That’s two top defensemen who will be back for their respective teams in an elimination game.
Pietrangelo said there has to be a balance of keeping the momentum high from winning Game 5 and trying to understand what needs to be better heading into a close-out game.
“I think we’ve tried to do the best we can to reset,” Pietrangelo said. “Emotions are going to be high. You’re going to a building on the road that’s a loud building to begin with. They’re going to be amped up and we need to try and match their energy.
Danny Webster can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected] Follow Danny on Twitter at twitter.com/DannyWebster21.