The Vegas Golden Knights will put a three-game winning streak on the line Saturday afternoon when they host the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in Las Vegas.
The Golden Knights, who started the season a pedestrian 11-11-4, have rebounded to go 11-4-2 since Thanksgiving, including a hold-your-breath 5-4 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night that saw them successfully kill a 6-on-3 power play for 43 of the final 89 seconds and a 6-on-4 the rest of the way.
“The three guys did an incredible job,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant told reporters of the late penalty kill. “They had awesome blocks and they paid the price to win a hockey game. That is what you love to see from your team.”
William Karlsson blocked a shot from the slot by Ivan Provorov and Brayden McNabb had a sliding block on a Shayne Gostisbehere shot from the right side of the goal. Marc-Andre Fleury also made a save on a Claude Giroux slap shot to get the Golden Knights, who lead Arizona by two points for first place in the Pacific Division, out of the late jam.
Afterward Gallant became agitated when asked by a reporter if it was a statement win for his team because Vegas had struggled against playoff-caliber teams. Of their 11 wins during their current 17-game stretch, just five have come against teams that would be in the playoffs entering Friday (Arizona twice, Vancouver, Dallas in OT and Philadelphia) with the majority against teams (Rangers, New Jersey, Chicago, Minnesota, San Jose, Anaheim) at or near the bottom of their divisions.
“We’re negative tonight, aren’t we?” Gallant bristled. “Like struggle against teams? We’re in first place aren’t we? We’re in first place and I thought we’ve had a good run the last 20-some games. Oh, so the whole league isn’t a good league anymore? Like, come on.
“We just won a big game,” Gallant continued. “Did we not play good enough to win? Were we not the better team tonight? Yeah, that’s it. The only teams we beat are bad teams … supposedly. Like, what?”
Gallant, who earlier in the news conference objected to the phrase “held on” for the wild finish of the game, then stormed off the podium.
Vegas has a chance to add a definite marquee win Saturday against Western Conference-leading St. Louis, which dropped the first two games of its three-game Western road trip, including a 7-3 loss at Colorado on Thursday night. The Blues finished the 2019 calendar year with the best record in the NHL (56-19-11, 123 points) while Vegas was tied with Columbus for 16th with 93 points.
The loss to the Avalanche was the most lopsided of the season for St. Louis, which had an eight-game win streak snapped at Arizona (3-1) to begin the trip two days earlier.
“I think we didn’t play a very smart game tonight, that’s the bottom line,” Blues coach Craig Berube told reporters. “You have to play good defense against this team and manage things, and we didn’t do it. … We took too many penalties.”
St. Louis allowed the Avalanche to score three power-play goals on five opportunities.
“We just kind of deviated from our normal structure, and got to playing their kind of game, and obviously it killed us,” said center Ryan O’Reilly. “We gave them way too much off the rush and we didn’t play our normal heavy game, and we didn’t have enough O-zone time. We have to adjust, and we have got to respond.”
–Field Level Media