After blowing a two-goal lead in the final ten minutes of regulation, the Golden Knights hopes of a return to the Stanley Cup Finals came to an end. They fell in overtime to the Dallas Stars 3-2.
The Golden Knights scored the first two goals in the game. The first coming on a breakaway from Chandler Stephenson. After not scoring in the second period, Reilly Smith opened up the third period with a goal. At this point in the game, Vegas held a 2-0 lead, looked poised to stave off elimination.
The final ten minutes of regulation became Vegas’ undoing. Jamie Benn, the Stars captain, opened the scoring for Dallas after putting a shot past Robin Lehner after a mad scramble in front of the net. Shortly after, Joel Kiviranta scored on the powerplay to even the score at two. The Stars completely dominated the Golden Knights in the final half of the period and carried that momentum into overtime. Just over three minutes into overtime, an unfortunate bounce led Zach Whitecloud to airmail the puck over the glass. This caused a delay of game penalty to be assessed to Vegas and the Stars went on the powerplay. Denis Gurianov ended the Golden Knights season midway through the powerplay to give the Stars the 3-2 win. For the second straight year, the Golden Knights have been eliminated from the playoffs in disappointing fashion.
What Went Wrong?
How did a team that was favored to win the Stanley Cup seemingly fall apart when it mattered most? One simple fact: scoring. It has been an issue since game 5 of the second round of the playoffs and continued to plague them. Entering the Western Conference Finals, the Golden Knights averaged 2.81 goals per game in the 16 games played prior. In the final 5 games they played against Dallas, the Golden Knights averaged just 1.6 goals per game. Over a full goal per game less scored is not a recipe for success. Also, when a team’s best players fail to make an impact, the team will struggle. Of the Golden Knights top six forwards, only William Karlsson, Paul Stastny, and Reilly Smith scored goals in the five games played. The only player on the Golden Knights that played consistently was Shea Theodore, who led the team with 20 points in the playoffs. He also had a goal and two assists in the series.
Anton Khudobin was a major factor in why Vegas scorers had a tough time finding the back of the net. Whenever the Golden Knights got prime scoring chances, he shut the door. The Golden Knights did not do themselves any favors though. A good majority of their shots either came from the point or went straight into Khudobin’s chest, not allowing for any rebound opportunities. The Golden Knights also failed to generate much traffic in front of Khudobin. A lot of the shots the Golden Knights generated were with minimal traffic in front of the net. Most professional goaltenders will make saves when they can see the shot, and the Golden Knights did not do a good enough job taking away his eyes. Instead, they over passed in the offensive zone and resorted to chucking pucks at the net wildly.
Aside from game 2, the Golden Knights were completely out classed by the Stars when it really mattered. Despite outshooting the Stars in all but one game, the Golden Knights were dominated where it really mattered: between the pipes and in puck luck. Now the Golden Knights will head into this offseason with some questions that they will need to answer. The first is what to do with Marc-Andre Fleury, who still has two years left on his contract. The second will be about whether or not this scoring issue they had in the final eight games was a player issue or a scheme issue. If they determine it was a player issue, some changes will need to be made to the roster. With minimal cap space, the Golden Knights will need to trade off some existing contracts, meaning there could be a much different look to the team next year.