After a quick pause in the action, the NHL returned to action Saturday with a trio of second-round games. The last game of the day is a battle between Pacific Division foes, the Vegas Golden Knights and Vancouver Canucks.
After the Golden Knights won Game 1 easily, the Canucks answered in a big way the following game to tie up the series.
Here is a preview for Saturday night’s Game 3, along with a series recap and a free pick. Currently, Vegas is a -200 favorite to take the lead in the series.
Like many expected going into the series, the Golden Knights were dominant in Game 1, blanking the Canucks 5-0. Robin Lehner was brilliant, making 26 saves to earn his first postseason shutout.
As far as point production, it was the usual suspects for Vegas, with five different players finding the scoresheet. After left wing Jonathan Marchessault opened up the scoring, the Knights broke the game open in the second period with goals from right wings Reilly Smith, Mark Stone, and Alex Tuch.
Left wing Max Pacioretty would add the final goal about halfway through the third to cap off a game that Vegas dominated, outshooting Vancouver by 13 and going 1-for-3 on the power play.
Game 2, however, was a different story entirely. Led by a 38-save effort from Jacob Markstrom, the Canucks rebounded in a big way to win 5-2 to even up the series.
Vancouver was on the board within the first 90 seconds of action, thanks to a goal from right wing Tyler Toffoli, then doubled its lead with a score from center Bo Horvat. After Tuch made it a one-goal game, center Elias Pettersson scored late into the second to give Vancouver a two-goal lead again.
That lead extended to three just a few seconds into the final period with Horvat scoring his second goal of the game and a league-leading eighth of the postseason. Pacioretty got a late goal for Vegas, but left wing Tanner Pearson buried an empty-netter to seal the win.
Keys to Victory
Vegas will win if: It tightens up on defense. Throughout the round-robin games, the first-round series against the Blackhawks, and now against the Canucks, the Golden Knights have struggled at times on defense. Far too often, Vegas is breaking down on defense and giving up high-danger scoring chances.
Going up against a team with a ton of offensive talent like Vancouver, defensemen like Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt will need to improve and avoid the bad mistakes that force Vegas’ offense to pick up the slack.
Vancouver will win if: It wins the shot battle. Through the first two games of this series, Vegas has been generating the majority of the shots on goal, outshooting the Canucks by 13 in Game 1 and Game 2.
The gap could’ve been even greater in Game 2, but Vancouver blocked dozens of shots through all 60 minutes. The pressure has been on for Markstrom, who has been one of the best goaltenders in the league since the restart.
But, in the event that he starts to falter, a more consistent effort by the Canucks during 5-on-5 play will go a long way to helping them take Game 3.
Through two games, each team has showcased why they’re among the eight teams still remaining, albeit in different games. On Saturday night, Vegas will have to avoid defensive breakdowns, while Vancouver will focus on generating more consistent offense, especially at even strength.
I’m going with the Canucks in an upset in this one. They have the better goaltending situation at the moment and have a healthy forward group that can force Vegas’ defense into making mistakes. Plus, at the odds they’re being given, it’s worth a bet.
Pick: Canucks +170