Since Game 1, the Golden Knights and Oilers series hadn’t seen a game within three goals in the final 10 minutes. So, while much has been learned about the matchup between the two teams, close defensive hockey was still a question mark.
That was until last night.
Following the kill of a major penalty that brought the score from 4-2 to 4-3, the Golden Knights put on a clinic in how to defend the most potent offense in the NHL this season.
I thought it was our best all around defensive game. Our team has responded well to situational hockey in the playoffs when we’ve had the lead. We understand the value of easy chances against so we’re making the other team work. We did a really good job of that last night and I think we are good 5-on-5 with the lead. -Bruce Cassidy
Vegas became an entry denial machine that stifled the Oilers for the entire 3rd period, not allowing them to erase the one goal deficit. Edmonton generated a measly four shots on goal in nearly 10 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey. And, the Oilers mustered up just 0.21 expected goals in the 3rd period with all ten skaters on the ice, less than half of what they accumulated in each of the first two periods.
Good gaps, check with our feet, staying tight and defending as five as we have all year. I thought we executed plays really well and we won those battles and got the clears when we needed to and got a couple big stops which you need. There’s a lot to build off of there and I thought we executed well. -Nic Hague
It was all highlighted by one shift though, a shift that wasn’t even played in the defensive end of the ice.
O-Zone puck possession. That was a big shift with their top guys out using energy to get the puck back and not being in our end. It was predominantly Reilly Smith who had the puck a lot. That contributes a lot (to our overall defensive game in the 3rd period). And it gets your bench excited and it gets your D a breather and your goalie a breather to reset and we were able to do that. -Cassidy
The shift began with 3:30 left in the 3rd period when Nic Roy sent a simple little dump-in to the corner and he forechecked alone. He held off Brett Kulak to get the puck back and then the Golden Knights held it in the offensive zone for the next 80 seconds. It’s absolutely brilliant. Watch.
Smith, who Cassidy highlighted, was the star of the shift, consistently hanging onto the puck and killing time off the clock. For a player who has had a tough time scoring in these playoffs, he was able to make a massive impact without even attempting a shot on goal.
Stone also played a large part, holding the puck and also grabbing a takeaway as the Oilers finally had a chance to exit.
All of it adds up to winning hockey. It relieved pressure on the defense and goalie, it kept McDavid and Draisaitl off the ice for a long stretch of the most crucial part of the game, and it denied Edmonton an opportunity to get their goalie out of the net while trailing by a goal.
There’s a lot the Oilers do well, playing like the Golden Knights did in the 3rd period eliminates all of it.
For Vegas, it’s simple in Game 6. Get the lead and do it again.