With Gerard Gallant, it’s never complicated.
He wants his team to play simple, smart hockey, starting with a strong forecheck. And when the Golden Knights trust their coach, play the system he designed, they win more often than not.
Case in point: Friday’s Game 5 of the Knights’ Western Conference semifinal against San Jose. The Knights pressured the Sharks into turnovers or won the battles along the boards and behind the net. It resulted in a 5-3 win at T-Mobile Arena and a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“It’s effort,” Gallant said. “When you’ve got 20 guys working hard and giving effort, you’re going to get good results.”
The goal James Neal scored with 3 seconds remaining in the first period was the result of Erik Haula taking the puck off Mikkel Boedker’s stick. When defenseman Brent Burns got control, David Perron wouldn’t allow him to clear the San Jose zone.
Perron took possession, made a smart pass to a wide-open Shea Theodore, who sent the puck toward the goal. Eventually, Neal was at the right doorstep and put the rebound past goaltender Martin Jones.
“I felt really comfortable with my line again, and I think Tuchy (Alex Tuch) and Eaks (Cody Eakin) had played together earlier this year,” Perron said. “I think everybody was just comfortable with each other.”
Oscar Lindberg, who saw his first playoff action Friday, said: “We tried to play a lot of north-south and not complicate things. Tuchy’s speed was there, and we tried to get him the puck.”
The third Knights goal was another case of winning battles. The Knights won control in the neutral zone and quickly transitioned with Ryan Carpenter feeding Perron, who sent the puck to the left corner, where Haula outraced the San Jose defense. His shot from a sharp angle just off the goal line handcuffed Jones and went in.
Tuch’s second goal gave the Knights a 4-0 lead and chased Jones from the net 8:36 into the period. It was the result of winning a neutral zone battle, then transitioning quickly from defense to offense as Eakin got the puck to Tuch, who fed Lindberg, who found Eakin in the San Jose zone.
Eakin saw Tuch going uncontested to the net, threw the puck at him, and Tuch timed it perfectly with a redirected tip-in past Jones.
But when the Knights’ forecheck faltered, the Sharks took advantage and scored three times in a 6:09 span in the third period to make a game of it.
“In the playoffs, you’ve got to play 60 minutes,” Gallant said. “We played 50 good minutes and not so good the final 10.”
But the Knights had built enough of a cushion to withstand the Sharks’ comeback.
“We were a way better team (Friday),” Neal said. “We played better.”