Balance, Poise (and a Bit of Luck) Propel Golden Knights Past Avs

The Vegas Golden Knights received an early wake-up call in Game 6 of their second-round series against the Colorado Avalanche.

After prioritizing strong neutral zone play in order to slow down a high-octane opponent (Nathan MacKinnon in particular) for four straight contests, Peter DeBoer’s men took their foot off the gas…and it resulted in a Devon Toews goal 23 seconds into the first period:

While Vegas would recover and begin to generate opportunities of its own, it slipped in and out of rhythm in a chaotic, uptempo affair on Thursday night. The Golden Knights prevailed 6-3, but their performance was a coach’s nightmare. Instead of remaining on the right side of the puck, the forwards gambled for offense and lost, allowing the Avs to initiate rush after rush. Colorado’s biggest threats were granted far too much room and the Golden Knights were forced into merely praying for survival.

Thankfully, the Avs often did them a favor by missing the cage entirely:

Marc-Andre Fleury was also up to the test in a game where Colorado registered 25 scoring chances and 10 high-danger opportunities:

That poise in the eye of the storm ultimately defined this series. Every time the Avs hit a bump in the road, they grew frustrated and veered further off track. Whenever Vegas was dealt a dose of adversity, it shrugged it off and stayed the course. The dividends were plain to see on Thursday night.

Colorado scored on the second shift of the game. How did Vegas respond? With a Nick Holden tying goal less than a minute later. The Avs then entered a fog just long enough for Alec Martinez to find William Karlsson for a great one-timer look. Karlsson shanked his attempt, but it was such a quality chance that it still ended up behind Philipp Grubauer:

From start to finish, Game 6 was a rollercoaster. Colorado played with far greater drive and purpose than it had in the previous few outings, but it couldn’t stave off the negative energy. The Avs would climb back into the game only for the relentless Golden Knights to bully them with the basics.

After Mikko Rantanen squared things up 2-2 on the power play, Vegas earned an offensive zone faceoff. 24-year-old rookie Keegan Kolesar wins the draw, establishes inside position on Tyson Jost and tips home the go-ahead marker. Textbook stuff:

Then Andre Burakovsky notched a timely first goal of the playoffs after Alec Martinez offered him a massive cushion on the zone entry:

Again, however, the Golden Knights just picked themselves up and kept playing. Sure, they suffered further lapses in Game 6, but they were always momentary slip-ups. No sweat off their back. Each Avalanche blunder left Jared Bednar’s troops stunned. Each false step felt heavy. This tendered Vegas the freedom it needed to impose its style in the dirty areas.

Following Game 1, we noted that the Golden Knights needed to turn this series into trench warfare. Well, guess where their goals came from on Thursday night. Point shots. Rebounds. Deflections. Not exactly highlight-reel material. In fact, Avs fans might even claim this outburst was lucky.

But Vegas earned its good fortune by sticking to its guns. No matter how the game was unfolding, it played hard, it played fast and it attacked the trenches. And this approach requires no firepower whatsoever. Everyone got in on the act. The defensemen made huge contributions. The top six added a big goal. The fourth line was positively heroic.

Colorado, which relies much more heavily on its top-end talent, stewed in its shortcomings. Each mistake would chip away at their will. Samuel Girard looked totally overwhelmed by the end of the series, floundering in coverage and possession to the tune of a -4 rating in an elimination game (0 points, -9 in his last 4 outings). Grubauer seemed lost in his head, frequently tracking the puck long after it had been released. Several Vegas goals stemmed from lousy play by Girard and slow reaction time between the pipes:

The Avs weren’t ready for Vegas’ scorching-hot pressure. They weren’t prepared to play any other way. They wanted nothing to do with these grind-it-out hostilities, and there was no help on the horizon. They were broken, and as they looked around the rink for answers, the Golden Knights buried them.

In the heat of battle, one team hung in the fight. The other wanted out.

They got their wish.

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