Updated August 12, 2020 - 8:16 am
The Golden Knights continue to be the best third-period team of the NHL restart.
The Knights scored two goals in the final period Tuesday to pull away for a 4-1 victory in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks. In four postseason games, they have scored 10 third-period goals and allowed one.
“I thought as we worked into the game, our level got higher and we got harder as the game went on,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “That was a good thing.”
A great final 20 minutes was just part of the Knights’ victory Tuesday. Here are three more takeaways from the win:
1. Smith shines again
Knights fans are used to Reilly Smith showing up in the playoffs. He entered Tuesday as the franchise’s all-time leading postseason scorer with 30 points in 30 games.
He increased his hold on that spot against the Blackhawks. Smith had two goals and an assist while chipping in his usual stellar defensive effort.
“Sometimes the production overshadows all the other things he does,” DeBoer said. “He checks so well. He’s so defensively responsible. He kills penalties, as well as plays in our power play. He’s one of the first names you’re calling out if you’re up or down a goal in the last minute of play.”
Smith received a fortunate bounce on his first goal, as Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford deflected his shot into the net. The second goal was all speed and skill, as Smith lifted the puck into the roof of the net with his backhand.
“He doesn’t get enough credit on our team,” linemate Jonthan Marchessault said. “For three years, he’s been one of our best players. It was actually fun that this year he got rewarded more offensively and like (he) obviously (did) tonight. But he’s been unbelievable for us, and he’s a big part of why we have a lot of success offensively.”
2. Defense tightens up
The Knights went 3-0 in the round robin, but they still made plenty of defensive mistakes and allowed 10 goals.
Those miscues were largely gone Tuesday. The Knights barely let the Blackhawks forecheck and were tight on Chicago’s shooters. The Blackhawks finished with 20 shots on goal and four high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five. Chicago averaged 8.77 such chances per game during the regular season.
“I think our breakouts, our d-zone, we got out pretty clean,” Marchessault said. “Every time they had a chance, it was like an outside shot or something, and (goaltender Robin Lehner) sees those like a beach ball.”
The Knights’ defensive MVP might have been Alec Martinez. He and partner Shea Theodore were tasked with defending the Blackhawks’ second line of Alex DeBrincat, rookie Kirby Dach and former Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane. The three finished with a combined three shots on goal.
“I thought he was great,” DeBoer said of Martinez, who the Knights traded for before the deadline. “He’s just so solid. You put him out in any situation. Up by a goal, down by a goal, power play, penalty kill. He’s a versatile guy. He’s been a real good addition for our group.”
3. Pacioretty knocks rust off
Max Pacioretty gave a pretty blunt assessment of his play during a first-intermission interview with a pool reporter in Edmonton, Alberta.
“It felt like it was my first game in five months,” he said.
He wasn’t wrong.
Pacioretty slowly got up to speed in his first competitive hockey game since March 9. The Knights’ leading scorer, who suffered a minor training camp injury and joined the team late in Edmonton, had four shots on goal. He reclaimed his place on the Knights’ top power-play unit and played 18:08, slightly above his season average.
“It was nice to have him back,” DeBoer said. “I think what we got is a guy that hasn’t played in a few weeks. He was working his way into it. I thought he got better as the game went on, like our team did.”