The Vegas Golden Knights are the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference for a reason. They are one of the best offensive and defensive teams in the league, and the Blackhawks are seeing it first-hand in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In a 4-1 loss in Game 1 on Tuesday, the Blackhawks were reminded that the Golden Knights can tighten up defensively as good as anyone. In Game 2 on Thursday, the Golden Knights reminded the Blackhawks why they were the NHL’s best puck possession team during the regular season and showed how dangerous they can be when they dictate the pace of play.
The Blackhawks went toe-to-toe with the Golden Knights for two periods, but the Golden Knights imposed their will in the third period and overtime and eventually cashed in at the 7:13 mark to take a 2-0 series lead.
"I thought we were playing really well the first two periods," said Patrick Kane, who had three assists in Thursday's 4-3 loss. "And for whatever reason it just seemed that they came out better than us in the third. I don’t know if we thought it was going to be a little bit easier than it was, especially after we tied it up. But they’re a good team, they’re going to fight back, and they carried the play for most of the third."
The Blackhawks made significant lineup changes going into Game 2, looking for a spark after struggling to break through Vegas’ tight-checking style in Game 1. Adam Boqvist, most notably, was a healthy scratch in favor of Lucas Carlsson, who logged only 10:33 of ice time and had a plus-2 rating.
The Blackhawks also changed up the look of three of their four lines and, for the most part, it worked. But the Golden Knights were too much to handle, even without their leading scorer Max Pacioretty, who was ruled "unfit to play."
From the third period on, the Golden Knights led in shot attempts (36-16), shots on goal (23-7), scoring chances (21-8) and high-danger chances (7-3), according to Natural Stat Trick. It was a dominant effort, and only a matter of time before they broke through.
"They're a really good third-period team and they had a hard push," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I would've liked to see us handle it a little better. ... Disappointing, because I thought the guys played hard. But at the same time, we need to keep getting better, keep improving. We're not out of it. We're going to regroup and come back raring to go for Game 3."
Credit the Blackhawks for rallying from a two-goal deficit to even the score at 3-3 by the end of the second period. They showed, yet again, that they won't go down without a fight and are never out of a game.
But they've given up the first goal in five of six postseason games now and have yet to play with a lead in 127:13 minutes against the Golden Knights. That needs to change if the Blackhawks want to get back into this series, which is going to be difficult considering teams that go up 2-0 in a series go on to win 87.2 percent of the time.
It's a crucial weekend for the Blackhawks, who have a day off on Friday before playing back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday.
"Once we find our groove, we’ll be alright as a group," Kirby Dach said. "It’s tough to swallow this one right now. We had chances in overtime to put the game away. That’s not the way it went, so we’ve got to regroup fast here because these next two games are coming up quick."