The Vegas Golden Knights have pushed the Edmonton Oilers to the brink of elimination after a bounce-back performance in Game 5, winning 4-3 in regulation and taking a 3-2 series lead with a chance to advance to the Western Conference Finals on Sunday.
Both teams were shorthanded heading into this game following suspensions after Game 4 to Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse and Vegas’ Alex Pietrangelo, who violently slashed Leon Draisaitl, which led to Nurse fighting with Nicholas Hague in retaliation, giving him an instigator penalty.
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Adin Hill started this game for the Golden Knights following Laurent Brossoit’s injury in Game 4 and finished with a .914 save percentage (SV%) after stopping 32 of the 35 shots he faced. As for the Oilers, Stuart Skinner had a .818 SV% and was pulled in favour of Jack Campbell in the second period, where he stopped all nine shots he faced.
Golden Knights’ Power Play Comes Up Huge
The Golden Knights were 0-13 on the power play throughout the first four games of this series, and it surprisingly ended up being the turning point for their offence in Game 5. Jack Eichel, who finished with three points in this game, drew two penalties halfway through the second period and gave them an extended two-man advantage, leading to goals from Mark Stone and Reilly Smith who made it 3-2 and gave the Golden Knights their first lead of the game.
Following the two power-play goals, the Golden Knights maintained their pressure and scored their third consecutive goal in just 89 seconds off a point shot through traffic from Hague. This also led to Jack Campbell being brought in to replace Skinner for the second time in this series. This was the fastest three goals scored for the Golden Knights in franchise history, and ended up being the difference maker in the game.
While the 0-13 stat is shocking at first glance, there were signs that the Golden Knights had been trending in the right direction on the power play after their opportunities in Game 4. In their four attempts last game, they finished with 10 shots on 16 shot attempts and 0.82 expected goals.
Comparing that to the Oilers’ lethal power play, who had seven shots on nine attempts and finished with 0.86 expected goals in nearly the same amount of time, the Golden Knights were due for a breakout performance with the man-advantage.
Despite still finishing 2-7 on the power play in this game, the Golden Knights have now outscored their opponents 16-5 in the second period during these playoffs and have continued to find ways to keep up with the Oilers’ high-tempo offense when it matters most.
Golden Knights’ Crucial Penalty Kill
In the final moments of the second period, the Golden Knights were given a five-minute major after Keegan Kolesar hit Oilers defenseman Mattias Ekholm from behind into the boards, which left him shaken up for a few minutes before returning to start the third period.
Mattias Ekholm walks back to the locker room after a hard hit. Keegan Kolesar is issued a five-minute major for boarding. pic.twitter.com/ffuaWo54nP— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 13, 2023
Kolesar was automatically ejected from the game and it’s unclear whether or not he will face supplementary discipline. However, with the way that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety has been throughout these playoffs, on top of how dangerous the hit was, it wouldn’t be surprising if Kolesar had a hearing before Game 6.
This left the Golden Knights in a vulnerable position despite being up two goals, with the Oilers having converted on their first two opportunities spending nearly 25 percent of the third period on the power play. Even though they gave up a goal to Connor McDavid to pull the Oilers within one, that penalty kill would be considered a huge win as they held them off for the remaining two minutes of the man-advantage.
Jack Eichel Leads Golden Knights’ Offense
This was Eichel’s breakout performance of the series, leading all players in scoring with a goal and two assists and finishing with a 64.71 Corsi For percentage at even strength (CF%). The Golden Knights only had two players with a higher CF% in this game and they happened to be Eichel’s two linemates in Jonathan Marchessault (71.43 CF%), who had three assists, and Ivan Barbashev (75.00 CF%) who had an assist as well.
Eichel has found a way to consistently be effective in the playoff hockey environment and it shouldn’t be surprising with the way he has altered his style of play in this series. He seems more comfortable holding onto the puck for extended periods of time and plays really well with defenders on his back, inviting contact from opposing players in hopes to open up space for his teammates.
His commitment to defense makes this performance even more impressive, finishing with 0.19 expected goals against (xGA) at even strength and allowing just three high-danger chances against (HDCA) through his 20 minutes of ice time.
This was Eichel’s third multi-point game of the series and his fourth of the playoffs, placing him seventh in playoff scoring league-wide with 13 points through 10 games played. The Golden Knights are now 6-0 in the playoffs when Eichel has at least a point, and will need him to continue to play as well as he has thus far in order to close this series out.