The Vegas Golden Knights may not have been able to pull off the clean sweep, but they got as close as anyone did. Vegas went on to defeat the Winnipeg Jets in five games. Head coach Bruce Cassidy made all the right moves along the way. Cassidy made clear adjustments that were needed after a disappointing Game 1 for Vegas. Here is how the Golden Knights vs Jets series ends in five games. The corrections worked, as Vegas won the next four in a row to advance to the second round.
Golden Knights Vs Jets Series Ends In Five Games
What Went Wrong for Winnipeg?
Here is what went wrong in the Golden Knights vs Jets series. First, let’s talk about the Jets. At the end of the day, the intensity level for the Jets just wasn’t there. They were getting beat to pucks and were slower up the ice. They also weren’t able to frustrate Vegas with goaltending. Connor Hellebuyck had a fine series, with a .886 save percentage and 3.44 GAA, but wasn’t able to steal a game. Losing Josh Morrissey, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Mark Scheifele to injury didn’t help morale or energy on the ice. In addition, Winnipeg just couldn’t ever get their skates underneath them. Several big pieces of this Winnipeg team are reaching the end of their contracts. The Jets will likely be facing a bigger rebuild than they were expecting.
Captain Makes a Difference
One key in the Golden Knights vs Jets series was the captain. Vegas captain Mark Stone had been out since January with a back injury. Stone would return in time for Game 1. After watching him play in Game 1, many fans were content with the idea of letting him sit for another few games. Stone was visibly uncomfortable on the ice. In addition, he was nowhere near his normal off-puck activity and speed levels. Even Cassidy commented on it, saying Stone was “rusty” and that “it will take time for [Mark] to get going”. The lack of intensity and pace spread to the rest of the team. Winnipeg went on to a 5-1 thrashing of the Golden Knights.
A reasonable action would have been to pull Stone from the lineup and return to the skaters that had gotten Cassidy to the playoffs. But he held firm, and Stone has since put up eight points in his last four games, and is tied for fourth in playoff points behind only Roope Hintz, Mitch Marner, and Leon Draisatl.
Stone’s playmaking ability is crucial for the Golden Knights. His ability to score is great, but his passing and awareness on the ice make him truly dangerous. He creates opportunities at a breakneck speed, and this is crucial for a team that has struggled to find playoff offence in the past. Cassidy’s willingness to ride out a rough game with Stone rather than return to what had worked in the regular season could come back to be one of his best ones yet.
The biggest key in the Golden Knights vs Jets series was coaching. Cassidy had to make a few other key personnel decisions during the series. He stuck with Laurent Brossoit in net after he let in five goals in Game 1, and sat NHL Ironman Phil Kessel in Game 5 so that Will Carrier could check in after returning from injury. Cassidy was willing to sacrifice what was working for something that might be even better. He pushed for a lineup that was putting the best team on the ice, not just one that would win the games. It was a brave, decisive move that shows how serious this Vegas team is about their march to the Stanley Cup.
Forechecking a Deciding Factor
The forecheck was one of the biggest elements in the Jets’ big Game 1 win. Winnipeg was breaking pucks out of the zone cleanly, able to find outlet passes easily and setting up goal after goal. It’s seen clearly on Kyle Connor’s first goal of the series. Pierre-Luc Dubois has almost no pressure from Vegas before a picture-perfect pass to Connor in the slot.
WHO ELSE BUT KYLE CONNOR TO SCORE OUR FIRST GOAL OF THE PLAYOFFS 🙌 pic.twitter.com/BYumWQGdi2
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) April 19, 2023
Vegas was unable to keep up with the Jets in Game 1, caught flat-footed and lethargic. They continued to try and generate offence from the outside, chasing pucks rather than goal-scoring opportunities. That completely changed in the next four games. Vegas was all over Winnipeg, forcing turnovers and drawing penalties to give themselves every advantage that they could.
Pucks to the Net
Cassidy was also able to make an adjustment that no other Vegas coach has been able to make: getting pucks to the front of the net. Historically, the Golden Knights have been shoved out of the playoffs in an absolute offensive drought, their game drying out just when they need it most. Cassidy’s system has gotten his team in tight, generating offence right in front of the net. They were able to keep pressure on the Jets, every line creating chances and getting in tight.
The Golden Knights scored 19 goals in five games against the Jets. In twelve playoff series, Vegas scored more goals in a round just four times, and each was at least a six- or seven-game series. Vegas is clicking on an offensive level that they haven’t before, and it’s Cassidy’s system that is getting them there.
Looking Ahead for the Knights
Vegas will take on the winner of the Edmonton Oilers and L.A. Kings series, and look to be in a good position to win against either opponent. The Golden Knights are finally (mostly) healthy, and the team looks comfortable and confident. With their players playing this well, and their coach doing the same, Vegas looks to be a real contender for the Cup.
Main Photo: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports