Unlike the Washington-Tampa series so far, the Vegas-Winnipeg series has been a much closer battle in every way possible. After Winnipeg got off to a ferocious start to win Game 1, it was Vegas who returned the favor in Game 2. Just like that, the series is tied at 1 as both franchises move the series to the desert.
As mentioned in the preview, this was always going to be a series between not only two evenly matched sides, but two teams that go about their business differently. While Winnipeg likes to share the wealth in their world-class offense, the Golden Knights like to go with goaltending, team defense and a red-hot top line.
Surely enough, those styles were on full display in Game 1, but Vegas’ top line could not do as much as they want on the score sheet. Things really didn’t help that Winnipeg and their deafening crowd put them in a 3-0 deficit 8 minutes into the game. Sure, Jonathan Marchessault assisted on the loan goal by Brayden McNabb, but it’s not a good sign that Reilly Smith had five shots on goal and no one else on the team had more than two. The only other wave of offense in the game came from a tip-in by William Karlsson off of, you guessed it, Marchessault, on the power play. Vegas would go on to make the shot attempt battle even by games end, but not until the damage was already done. Things had to change.
Surely enough, it was Vegas’ turn to get the job done. All postseason long, Vegas’ defensemen were showing signs of life: whether it came from Shea Theodore, Nate Schmidt or Colin Miller. It is one thing, like Carolina and Washington Capitals teams of years past, where relying on point men on offense could only do so much for goal scoring. But it’s another thing, like Schmidt did in Game 2, to come in buzzing like a future Norris Trophy candidate would. He joined in on the rush, shot from any distance he wanted to, and confused Winnipeg’s defense as to who to properly cover. Along with that, Vegas’ third line of Tomas Tatar, Ryan Carpenter and Cody Eakin were absolutely buzzing on the forecheck and were a thorn on Winnipeg’s side all night. With that, Tatar was the first non-top line forward to score for Vegas in the series and the actual top line was able to open up as a result. In came that man Marchessault again as his skating speed was brilliant all night. With his two goals and ferocious energy, the Golden Knights went on to get their stake into the series, but not before Winnipeg put a little scare of their own in the underlying numbers battle.
I certainly am not at a point where I would say Winnipeg are the definitive favorites just because of their performances at home. Marc-Andre Fleury returned to full dominance in Game 2 and the rest of Vegas’ defense was lively and willing to join in on offense. Simply put, Winnipeg has to own the rest of Vegas’ lines and cause parity within the power-for-power matchups in order to win the series. They did so in Game 1. They did not do that in Game 2.
Maybe the analytics will eventually lead them towards giving them the series. But considering how young this team is and how they will, once again, have to deal with a pressure-packed environment in T-Mobile Arena, I’m not completely certain they can withstand the challenge to get three more wins smoothly.
On the other side, Vegas literally is playing on house money. They can’t do anything wrong, even if they do fail to make it to the Conference finals. That is a powerful mindset and it is why this expansion team has carried their talents this far into the postseason. Washington is using that same mentality to carry them through their series right now. If they keep that same energy going, maybe they will keep making those that picked them at 500-1 odds to win it all look like geniuses.