Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP / Associated Press
Published Sunday, May 14, 2023 | 9:45 p.m.
Updated Sunday, May 14, 2023 | 11:54 p.m.
Jonathan Marchessault has arguably been the Golden Knights’ most impactful playoff performer since the beginning.
It took time to reach that upper level this postseason, but he delivered once again to send Vegas back to the NHL’s final four.
Marchessault recorded a natural hat trick in the second period — his second career playoff hat trick — and the Golden Knights are moving on to the Western Conference Final for the fourth time in their six-year history after a 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers in Game 6 of their second-round series at Rogers Place on Sunday.
The Golden Knights will face the winner of the Dallas Stars-Seattle Kraken series. Game 7 of that matchup is in Dallas on Monday.
“This year, I got to say, it’s been really special,” Marchessault said on the ESPN postgame broadcast. “We definitely have a good thing going on.”
Given how the Golden Knights breezed through their five-game series against Winnipeg in the first round, it’s understandable to overlook those who didn’t get on the score sheet.
Marchessault, who had 28 goals to lead Vegas during the regular season, was one of those with a quiet two assists in those five games. Going seven playoff games without a goal was uncharacteristic for him.
He broke through in Game 3 with two goals in a 5-1 win. After no points in Game 4, he had three assists in Friday’s 4-3 win in Game 5.
Sunday night was his time to be the hero.
“He had a huge series. He had a great night tonight,” said center Jack Eichel of Marchessault. “Well deserved.”
The script on Sunday night was eerily similar to the first five games. The Golden Knights found themselves trailing against the highest-scoring team in the NHL after the first period.
Though Game 6 provided a plot twist. Reilly Smith scored 24 seconds into the game, the first time the Golden Knights scored first in a game all series, for a 1-0 lead. That advantage lasted 31 seconds before Connor McDavid tied it on the first shot goalie Adin Hill saw.
The second shot Hill saw came at 2:43 on a one-timer from Warren Foegele to give the Oilers a 2-1 lead.
Vegas escaped the first period trailing by one, given how a shaky defensive performance could’ve made the score much worse. Edmonton outshot Vegas 15-7.
What turned the game in the Golden Knights’ favor was the first five minutes of the second period. Though Vegas was heavily outshot, they controlled possession with extended shifts in the offensive zone.
The line of William Karlsson, Nicolas Roy and Smith had a 47-second shift with three shots on goal starting from the 16:58 mark. On the next shift, Jack Eichel’s line with Ivan Barbashev and Marchessault kept possession for 37 seconds and resulting in his first goal at 4:26 to tie it 2-2.
The Eichel-Barbashev-Marchessault trio was on the ice for 1:09 on their next shift three minutes later. That ended with Marchessault’s second goal at 7:44 off a rebound from Alec Martinez’s point shot for a 3-2 Vegas lead.
Marchessault capped off the hat trick with a 4-on-4 goal at 18:36 for the 4-2 lead. His 26 playoff points as a member of the Golden Knights are the most in team history, passing Mark Stone (23).
“Everyone out here is just trying to play the right way,” Marchessault said. “Sometimes you get rewarded. One night it’s one guy, another night it’s another guy.”
Vegas wouldn’t have gotten the chance to carry a two-goal lead had it not been for Hill’s performance. After allowing those two goals, Hill stopped the next 38 shots he faced to preserve his third win since Game 3.
In five appearances this series, Hill went 3-1 with a 2.19 goals-against average and .934 save percentage on 136 shots faced.
“He was incredible,” defenseman Nic Hague said on Hill. “We knew we needed a couple of big saves. They weren’t going to go away without a big push. When we did break down, Hilly came through with a handful.”
The Golden Knights have been confident that they can play their same game no matter who is in goal. This time, Hill needed to bail out his teammates. Edmonton had a 15-7 edge in high-danger chances and 3.81 expected goals at 5-on-5.
“In the end, you need timely goals and timely saves,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We got those tonight.”
William Karlsson’s empty-net goal with 39 seconds remaining capped a night where all members of the Misfit Line scored. Even though they’re on separate lines, Marchessault, Karlsson and Smith each had their handprints on this series.
Neither member of Edmonton’s superstar tandem, Leon Draisaitl and McDavid, scored a goal when defended by Karlsson. Smith, playing on that same line, also aided defensively, but scored his first two goals of the postseason — the go-ahead goal in Game 5, and then on Sunday.
The trio — three of the six that are left that played in the Stanley Cup Final in the inaugural season — will get another chance to get back. Standing in their way will either be former coach Pete DeBoer, or the second-year Kraken in a battle of the league’s newest clubs.
“We’re going to enjoy it tonight,” Marchessault said, “but we’re just halfway done.”
Danny Webster can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected] Follow Danny on Twitter at twitter.com/DannyWebster21.