After being shut out by Thatcher Demko in game 6, the Golden Knights finally cracked the Demko code and won 3-0.
“There were times it felt like we could have played for six hours and not scored on [Demko],” head coach Peter DeBoer told the media after the game. “What I am proudest of was how our group stuck with it. When you hit a hot goalie like that, a lot of times you can fall into the trap of cheating and trying to push for offense.”
The first two periods of the game turned out to be a goal tending battle for the ages. Both Robin Lehner and Thatcher Demko played incredible and made key saves to keep their team in the game. Lehner’s best save of the playoffs (not just the series) came on a 2 on 1 break away in the second period, stopping Brock Boeser on an incredible glove save. Demko found himself under siege once again in this game. The Golden Knights’ best chance between the two periods came with just under eight minutes to play in the second. After a scramble in front of the net left Demko down on the ice, Nate Schmidt found himself in the high slot with the puck on his stick. Schmidt rifled the one-time shot on net, but Demko found a way to keep the puck out of the net.
At the tail end of the second period, the Golden Knights got a major case of déjà vu. Last year against San Jose, Vegas faced a similar situation after being assessed a major penalty, but allowed four powerplay goals in five minutes. They went on to lose that game 5-4 in overtime. In Friday night’s game, Ryan Reaves hit Tyler Motte directly in the head with his shoulder. He was assessed a match penalty and was ejected from the game. This gave Vancouver a five-minute power play. This time however, the penalty killers got the job done. They killed off the major penalty and only allowed one shot on net during the penalty.
“You got to think [the major penalty from last year] crossed our mind a little bit,” Jonathan Marchessault told the media after the game. “Our team was able to kill it off. Our PKers came up huge.”
Entering the third period, Demko had not allowed a goal in six consecutive periods. The Golden Knights dominated play in those six periods, but the Demko wall stood tall in net. With six minutes and 13 seconds remaining in the period, the Golden Knights ended the shut-out streak. After J.T. Miller took a hooking penalty, Vegas found themselves on a powerplay. Shea Theodore found himself with the puck and fired a shot through traffic that beat Demko over his right shoulder just five seconds into the powerplay. Vegas would not relinquish this lead. Two empty net goals in the final two minutes from Alex Tuch and Paul Stastny gave the Golden Knights the breathing room they needed. They hung on to beat the Canucks 3-0 in game 7. Robin Lehner recorded his third shutout of the series, and this was perhaps his easiest one. He was not tested much but came up big when he needed to.
Last year it was special team woes that cost the Golden Knights their season. They allowed a short-handed goal in game 6 against San Jose that lost them the game. In game 7, they allowed four powerplay goals in five minutes after leading 3-0 late in the game. Against the Canucks this year, it was special team prowess that saved the day. The Golden Knights penalty killers held the potent Canucks powerplay units to zero goals in 13 attempts. The Golden Knights powerplay, while stalled in games 5 and 6, found a way to get one into the back of the net in game 7.
With a win Friday night, the Golden Knights became the first team in franchise history to reach the conference finals twice in their first three seasons. The team has bigger goals in mind, however, as they look to make a return to the Stanley Cup finals once again. Standing in their way is the Dallas Stars. Vegas split the season series against the Stars and beat them in the first round robin game 5-3. The Stars are a much-improved team since then and have the size and physicality to match the Golden Knights. This will be the biggest test Vegas has faced in the playoffs but have the talent and ability to get past the Stars.