Vegas Golden Knights Avoid Blowing 3-1 Series Lead, Advance To Western Conference Final

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Friday’s two Game 7s made for one of the most memorable days in recent hockey history. After an incredible finish between the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars, the late game had a lot up hype to live up too. Luckily for the Vegas Golden Knights, they were able to avoid blowing a 3-1 series lead.

With Friday’s win, the Vegas Golden Knights will advance to the Western Conference Final to face off against the Stars. These two victors of incredible series’ should make for an incredible best-of-seven stretch. But first, let’s examine how the Knights were able to get here in the first place by dispatching the Vancouver Canucks.

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Vegas Golden Knights Advance To Western Conference Final

The Elephant in the Room

While a multitude of congratulations is in order for the Golden Knights’ stellar performance, no discussion of this series is complete without discussing the admirable play of Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko.

Yes, the raw numbers are stellar. Starting in three straight games to close out the series and playing in four total, he was able to put up some of the best numbers in playoff history. A .985 save percentage and a 0.64 goals-against average are the best numbers in a single playoff for any goalie in the modern era to start at least one game. He surpassed Michael Neuvirth‘s performance for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2015–16 (.981 SV%, 0.67 GAA in three starts).

But the advanced stats give Demko’s performance even more credence. Looking at Demko’s goals allowed percentage shows he only allowed 18 per cent of the goals that an average NHL goalie would have let in. For comparison, Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom, who was already playing well, posted a 97 for his goals allowed percentage. Demko also saved 8.96 more goals than the average goalie over his three starts.

What Demko did during these playoffs won’t be forgotten for a very long time. His efforts deserve a lengthy nod before breaking down what the Golden Knights did right.

All advanced stats are via Hockey Reference.

Golden Knights Continue to Dominate

While Demko certainly was outstanding, he needed to be in order for the Canucks to force a Game 7. The Golden Knights, since arriving in the bubble, have consistently dominated games offensively. Puck possession has been the team’s strongest suit, with the worst of their skaters (Tomas Nosek) still posting a Corsi For percentage of 54.5 at even strength. The majority of the Knights’ roster has eclipsed 60 percent at this point, meaning that the Golden Knights are controlling the puck for the vast majority of gameplay.

It was a different story on the Canucks’ side. While their numbers were okay heading into the series against Vegas, the Knights’ utter domination stymied the Canucks’ game plan. No Canuck who suited up against the Knights posted a Corsi For percentage of higher than 50 throughout the playoffs. Players such as Tyler Motte and Jay Beagles Corsi For percentages didn’t even eclipse 40.

Overall, the Canucks didn’t post a team Corsi For percentage above 43.1 throughout the series. Their worst effort was notably in Game 7, with the Canucks only posting a Corsi For percentage of 27.8.

The Knights controlled the play from the outset of Game 1, leading many to believe this series would have ended many days ago if not for the play of Demko.

Canucks Core Impresses

Despite so many poor metrics against the Knights, the Canucks are still in a solid position moving forward. While depth deficiencies showed on Vancouver’s end, the Canucks’ young stars each put together impressive individual performances.

Quinn Hughes built on his Calder Trophy nomination, and then some. Scoring six points in seven games (despite the Canucks getting shut out three times), the young defenceman also logged 21:05 of ice time per night. He scored a big goal in Game 6 to ensure the Canucks would tie the series, and was one of their most confident players on the ice.

Also impressive, especially in Game 6, was Elias Pettersson. While his offensive production dried up a little bit (five points in seven games), he was Vancouver’s most noticeable player every time he was out for a shift. He posted one of the team’s best +/- ratings with a -2 and logged almost 19 minutes of ice time a night. He was a force in front of the net, making life hard for both Vegas goaltenders. His strength and swagger is admirable for someone his age, and will only grow as he matures.

Moving Forward

This series was a stellar litmus test for the Canucks. While they couldn’t dethrone the big boys in Vegas, they showed that they could be a quality matchup, even if goaltending was a huge factor. The team will almost surely be back in a playoff position next year as Pettersson and Hughes continue to develop into star players.

The Vegas Golden Knights now advance the Western Conference Final for the second time in their three-year existence. The unprecedented start for this expansion team looks to pick up steam against a Stars squad that worked its tail off to get past the Avalanche. It will likely be another longer series for Vegas, but their perseverance throughout their battle with Vancouver showed that this team can handle it. If Vegas can continue their puck possession dominance, they’ll likely find themselves in the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three seasons.

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