After a dominant 3-0-0 round-robin effort to secure the #1 seed in the Western Conference, anticipation was at an all-time high for the “real games” to begin for the Vegas Golden Knights. Add to that the return of leading scorer Max Pacioretty, and the stars were in line for a big first game.
The Golden Knights got the job done securing a 1-0 lead in the series with a mostly dominant 4-1 win over the Blackhawks.
Here are three takeaways from the first Golden Knights win of the 2020 playoff season.
Has Anybody Seen the Playoff Emotion?
While the Golden Knights dominated most of the play and statistics for the first two periods, they did so with a complete lack of playoff intensity. The first period was such a snoozer — there wasn’t a scrum, a face wash, or a chop to the hands.
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Things started to pick up a bit in the second period for the Golden Knights, but there was still no sign of the intensity even of the round-robin game against St. Louis. Six minutes into the second it looked like some emotion was going to enter the game when after a late check at the boards, a scrum broke out with Jonathan Marchessault punching Jonathan Toews in the face a couple of times.
In a normal playoff game, something like that would be the spark that lights the fire. Nope, didn’t happen. The Golden Knights put up two goals in just over two minutes and then gave up a shorty to let the Blackhawks back in the game. They out hit, out-chanced, and outshot the Hawks 21-14 after two periods and had the game pretty well in hand.
A workmanlike effort in the third period and two more goals for the Golden Knights closed out the 4-1 victory. All in all, it was a very convincing win, just one that surprisingly lacked typical playoff emotion.
The Key to the Series Will Be the D’s
Before Game 1, every hockey pundit got to share his “Keys to the Game.” After the game, we have a clear picture of what are going to be the “Keys to the Series.” Those keys begin with “D” as in Depth and Defensive Zone.
The Golden Knights’ depth is arguably the best of the remaining teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and in this series, it’s going to be too much for the Blackhawks. Every game they are going to roll four lines at their opponent. If head coach Pete DeBoer decides to line match vs. the Blackhawks, he has the luxury of two equally dangerous lines to play against the Blackhawks’ top line. Beyond the top line, they are going to have a very difficult time against the Golden Knights.
The second “D” that is going to decide the series is going to be the defensive zone. The Blackhawks struggled mightily in their D zone against the persistent forecheck of the Golden Knights. Time after time, line after line, the Golden Knights pressured the Blackhawks defense into bad decisions and turnovers that led to quality scoring chances. That is going to be a recurring theme for as long as this series lasts.
In the Golden Knights’ defensive zone, their breakout was effortless for most of the game. Quick puck retrieval, quality decision making, and precise passing all prevented the Blackhawks from getting any extended zone time and pressure.
As long as the Golden Knights’ defense continues to move the puck and break out of their zone with little pressure from the Blackhawks, this series will not be in jeopardy for the Golden Knights.
3rd-Period Dominance Continues
Going into Game 1, the Golden Knights had outscored their opponents 8-1 in the third period, and it was by far the best period of the night. In addition to clinching the game with two third-period goals, they held the Blackhawks to six total shots in the period and held them without a shot for a nine-minute stretch.
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Since they returned to Phase 1 of the restart, the Golden Knights have been touting their committment to conditioning and being in game shape from the word go. The evidence continues to mount game after game that that is, in fact, the case. If the Golden Knights continue to dominate the third period like they did in Game 1, the series may even be shorter than the Golden Knights in five games on my betting slip.
One win down, 15 to go for a parade down the Fabulous Las Vegas Strip.