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Proving doubters wrong has been a staple of the Vegas Golden Knights’ surprise season, and they are continuing that ride in the final round of the 2018 NHL playoffs.
Vegas posted an impressive response in Game 2 to tie up the series with the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference Final. Stealing road wins is a major key to success to winning in the postseason, and now the Jets must return serve to get past the upstart expansion club.
It is a whole new series with the Jets’ home-ice advantage neutralized, and it all starts Wednesday night.
Western Conference Finals Game 3 Schedule
When: Wednesday, May 15 at 9 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live or the NBC Sports App
Game 3 Preview
The sample size is small, but Vegas has been strong at home this postseason.
The Golden Knights are 3-1 in their own building, having outscored the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks 18-8 and outshooting both teams by a combined 186-170 margin. During the regular season Vegas tied for third in the NHL with 29 home wins.
Of course, the Jets have been excellent on the road in these playoffs, including winning three games in rowdy Nashville to dust off the Predators in their last series. They did so with some phenomenal individual performances, as Mark Scheifele scored all seven of his goals in the second round on the road en route to 11 points and Connor Hellebuyck was a brick wall, per SportsNet Stats:
Sportsnet Stats @SNstats
#NHLJets Connor Hellebuyck on the road in this series
Away from home this postseason against the Minnesota Wild and the Predators, Winnipeg was outshot by a rousing 225-184 margin combined, so the Jets could be arranging tee times right now if not for Hellebuyck. The good part is that they can count on him to show up in Game 3, which can allow them to focus on solving Marc-Andre Fleury and his Golden Knights teammates.
With arguably the best top-six forward group in the NHL and Dustin Byfuglien leading a defense unit that can roll out five players who can log at least 20 minutes per night, Winnipeg is the better team in this series on paper. However, Vegas can match up with the Jets in team speed, and it put that on full display in Game 2.
Unlike Game 1, Winnipeg was unable to break out cleanly and create scoring chances on the rush. Instead, the Golden Knights used a fierce forecheck to force turnovers in the Jets zone and the neutral zone, which led to both of Jonathan Marchessault’s goals. Jets head coach Paul Maurice referenced his team’s sloppy play, especially early, as a key reason why they lost Game 2.
“We didn’t do a whole lot of clean things with the puck. But they were good. They were on the puck and didn’t make it easy,” said Maurice, via Mitchell Clinton of NHL.com. “We got a couple posts on us, and we were not right. We didn’t hold. But it didn’t cost us. There’s a 10-minute block there that we’re not going to like too much [Tuesday].”
Miscues hurt the Jets, but not generating enough prime scoring chances against Fleury did not help. The formula for success for Vegas revolves largely around its netminder, as he leads remaining playoff goalies with a sparkling 1.68 goals-against average in addition to a .945 save percentage. When he is sharp, the Golden Knights win, but it is a different story if he is not, per ESPN Stats and Info:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Marc-Andre Fleury has allowed at least 3 goals in 5 of his last 6 games (where the Golden Knights have gone 3-3) after not allowing more than 2 in his first 5 games of this postseason (where Golden Knights went 5-0) https://t.co/yyX6hvTTc8
Still, the Jets have the personnel to solve Vegas and its forecheck, and they have shown no reason to believe Game 2 is indicative of any sort of pattern. Winnipeg has continually bounced back from bad performances, as it has not lost back-to-back games since the second week of March. Especially with how excellent they have been on the road this postseason, the Jets should be expected to come out with a win on Wednesday.
Statistics are courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.