Vegas Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said Thursday one goal could get a raucous home crowd involved and make the difference in a playoff game.
His words rang true Friday night.
Jonathan Marchessault and Max Pacioretty scored 45 seconds apart late in the third period to lift Vegas to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche in Game 3 of their second-round playoff series.
Marchessault’s goal ignited an announced sold-out crowd of 17,504, which helped breathe life into the Golden Knights, who lost the first two games in Denver. Vegas cut Colorado’s series lead in half to 2-1. Game 4 is scheduled for Sunday in Las Vegas.
“The crowd was so awesome, the full building was so great, it was so nice to be back in that type of atmosphere again,” DeBoer said. “They were huge in the third period for us, sticking with us and keeping the energy levels up. It was awesome. It was nice to be back at home with a full house.”
William Karlsson also scored for Vegas and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 18 shots, including two point-blank saves inside the final two minutes to preserve the win.
With Vegas trailing 2-1, Marchessault whiffed on a shot but stayed with the puck and, from behind his own net, banked the puck off the back of Colorado goaltender Philipp Grubauer to tie it with 5:18 left in the game.
Less than a minute later, Pacioretty deflected defenseman Nick Holden’s shot from the point past Grubauer for the go-ahead goal.
“It’s tough to believe when you miss so many chances, but with Marchy breaking the ice, it really got us going,” Pacioretty said. “So when that floater comes in from Holdy, you just have a little more confidence that you’re going to tip it and that’s how it played out.”
Carl Soderberg and Mikko Rantanen scored for Colorado. Grubauer, who dropped to 6-1 this postseason, made 39 saves. He had won his previous 10 playoff decisions dating to last season.
“Maybe we stepped back too much in the third,” Soderberg said. “We gave them a lot of opportunities. We were almost there.”
Vegas fed off the crowd’s energy early on and dominated the first period by outshooting the Avalanche 15-3 and had a 6-0 edge with high-danger chances. It was a major turnaround for a Vegas team that was outscored 10-3 in the first two games.
The Golden Knights were able to completely neutralize Colorado’s speedy top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen, which has combined for 36 points and a plus-22 rating through seven games this postseason. They also controlled the neutral zone much better, making it difficult for the Avalanche to build speed and create rushes.
“You’re not going to completely eliminate them, they’re going to get their chances,” Vegas captain Mark Stone said. They’re one of the best lines in the league for a reason. But we see ourselves as one of the best lines in the league as well.”
Colorado’s top line had no high-danger chances in Game 3, forcing Colorado coach Jared Bednar to make a switch in the third period.
“What would you do? Did you see anything going on?” an agitated Bednar said after the game. “There’s nothing going offensively the whole night. Zero. So you going to leave it the same? No.”
As Vegas continued to feed off the energy, Karlsson sent the fans into a wild frenzy when he was able to kick a loose puck off defenseman Alex Pietrangelo’s shot to his backhand and fire it by Grubauer to give Vegas its first lead of the series.
The lead would only last 1 minute, 29 seconds, as Fleury failed to catch a shot by former Vegas teammate Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, leaving a live rebound and wide-open net for Soderberg.
Rantanen scored his third goal of the series just seconds into a power play, as his one-timer was too quick for Fleury’s glove. Colorado’s power play ranks No. 1 (11 of 23) during the playoffs, including having the top road power-play threat, having converted four of eight opportunities. Rantanen has points in each of his last 17 playoff games dating to last year, a franchise record for the longest playoff point streak including multiple postseasons.
After leading the league with an 86.8% success rate during the regular season, Vegas ranks 12th with its penalty kill during the postseason, having allowed seven goals against 24 power plays.