The Golden Knights Shredded The Lesser Oilers
12:27 PM EDT on May 9, 2023
In Game 2 of the Edmonton-Vegas series, we had a demonstration of how the Oilers' best lineup turns into a goal-scoring tornado when given space on the ice. But in Game 3, as the traveling Nevadans avoided any penalties for the first 35 minutes and only gave the home team one-and-a-half chances on the power play all night, the Golden Knights exposed the Oiler defense at 5-on-5, eating up the weaker side of Edmonton's roster with both slick passing and superior muscle.
Vegas allowed the opening goal early in the game, and even dealt with a first-period injury to top netminder Laurent Brossoit that had backup Adin Hill playing the final 50. But nevertheless they breezed to a 2-1 edge in the series on the back of a five-goal flurry. It started with lots of help from Jack Eichel, the team's most productive forward in the regular season and just one of several splashy acquisitions this franchise has executed in its short existence.
The former Sabre, who's been making the most of his debut postseason, earned his first of three points with an assist as Jonathan Marchessault fought his way into point-blank range for a tap-in, then picked up another right before intermission by orchestrating a goal that looked nearly identical in the box score. Eichel got away with a potential high-stick while getting physical with Kailer Yamamoto behind his own net, then skated halfway down the ice into a 3-on-3 setup. Eichel exchanged passes with Marchessault on the far right, deked to his left around a defender as Marchessault cut into the slot, and then sent a pass where it could be deflected on goal. Before you could blink, the puck was in the net, and someone in Edmonton was dropping an audible F-bomb.
After withstanding an Edmonton attack in the early stages of the second, some more smooth team play doubled the Vegas lead. Reilly Smith and Zach Whitecloud criss-crossed at the blue line and managed to take two Oiler defenders out of the play with that tiny ounce of misdirection. Whitecloud took advantage of the opening and fired a beauty top right behind Stuart Skinner.
Evan Bouchard just fell down on a rush to help Vegas stretch the lead to 4-1 and knock Skinner out of the game, and then almost immediately after Nicolas Roy had a goal disallowed on review, he responded with an astoundingly controlled dish to Chandler Stephenson that delivered complete revenge for the 5-1 loss the Knights suffered on Saturday.
You don't want to be too goldfish-brained after such an emphatic series-tying victory from the Oilers over the weekend, but this was an ugly mess that underlined Edmonton's instability in net and exposed their lack of supporting talent. It's not like they can really change that by Wednesday, however, so they were left instead to just talk up the importance of recapturing their Game 2 power in the next even-numbered meeting.
“Forty-eight hours ago, we played a game that we really liked. Forty-eight hours later, we're here talking about not a very good one,” Connor McDavid said after the loss. “So our game is, it's not gone. It's not far. We need our best in Game 4.”
The path to a strong Edmonton performance is pretty clear, actually, as they demonstrated on Saturday, but this loss is also a lesson in the limits of their strength. In Game 2, the Oilers enjoyed 5:31 of power play time with both McDavid and Draisaitl on the ice and scored thrice. In Game 3, they got just 2:10 together and couldn't convert. That slim window is where the Oilers are at their best, and with Zach Hyman banged up, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins still goalless in the postseason, those already precious seconds only become more valuable. The Knights, meanwhile, are happy with any kind of 5-on-5 where those two superstars sit on the bench. They've outshot the Oilers 45-to-25 in that situation so far this series, and Monday night they got over 24 minutes of such action. That's where they scored three of their five goals, and it's where Edmonton badly needs to stop playing like traffic cones.
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