Updated May 14, 2023 - 11:50 pm
Players in the visiting locker room at Rogers Place shouted in celebration as Jonathan Marchessault walked through the door.
The right wing has been at the center of every step of the Golden Knights’ journey from upstart expansion franchise to premier playoff performer. On Sunday night, he grabbed the spotlight again.
Marchessault scored three goals in the second period for his second playoff hat trick, and the Knights defeated the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 in Game 6 of their second-round series to advance to the Western Conference Final. They will play the winner of Monday’s Game 7 between the Dallas Stars and Seattle Kraken.
It’s the Knights’ fourth semifinal appearance in six seasons since joining the NHL, tied with Tampa Bay for the most in that span. Marchessault has played a key role in all of them. That continued against the Oilers when he became the sixth active player to have a three-goal period in the playoffs.
“We’re going to have to hear it for about the next four, five days,” coach Bruce Cassidy said about the legendary trash talker. “That’s the unfortunate part, but we’ll live with that. And you know what I’m talking about.”
The Knights were down before Marchessault’s heroics. But as they’ve shown time and again this season and in the series, they’ve almost never out.
The Knights got their first 1-0 lead against Edmonton when left wing Reilly Smith scored the second-fastest goal in team playoff history 24 seconds into the game. They still found themselves trailing when center Connor McDavid and left wing Warren Foegele responded by scoring on the Oilers’ first two shots to make the score 2-1 2:43 in.
Marchessault, the franchise leader in goals, assists and points, answered back to give the Knights their fourth comeback win against the NHL’s No. 1 offense. He tied the game 4:26 into the second, gave his team the lead 3:18 later and scored his third goal 1:24 before intermission for a natural hat trick.
It was an incredible closing effort from a player who dominated the series late. Marchessault, after recording two assists in his first seven playoff games, had five goals and three assists in the final four games.
“He comes up huge in a huge game for us tonight,” defenseman Nic Hague said. “That’s who he is. He has a talent for scoring goals, and you saw that tonight.”
Goaltender Adin Hill made sure the lead held up in the third period. The 27-year-old, making his third straight start in place of injured goaltender Laurent Brossoit, didn’t get off to a good start. But Hill made 39 straight saves to finish the game and earn his third playoff win.
Center William Karlsson capped things with an empty-net goal with 39 seconds remaining. That gave the Knights their ninth playoff series win, the second-most by one franchise in its first six seasons behind Edmonton (12). Their three goal scorers Sunday — Marchessault, Smith and Karlsson — have been around for all nine.
“We have six (original Knights) left right now, and we definitely still have a chip on our shoulder, and we’re gonna keep going until the organization wins the ultimate goal,” Marchessault said. “Tonight is just one step in the right direction, and when you think about it, we’re only halfway to our goal here. So there’s a lot of work left to do.”
Here are three takeaways from the win:
1. Even-strength effort
The Oilers’ top-ranked power play helped them win the special teams battle in the series 10-4. The Knights still advanced because they dominated at five-on-five.
All five of their goals Sunday came at even strength. They outscored Edmonton 18-9 outside of special teams.
The Oilers couldn’t find enough offense in Game 6 when getting only one power-play opportunity. The Knights made sure the game was decided at five-on-five, where their advantage was obvious.
“You need timely goals and timely saves, and that was the difference tonight,” Cassidy said. “We got our share.”
2. Goalie battle
Hill’s gem capped an excellent series in which he went 3-1 in three starts and two relief appearances. His .934 save percentage leads the playoffs among goaltenders who have started a game.
“I have worked very hard my whole life, obviously, to get to the NHL and to be here,” Hill said. “It’s exciting being on a team that’s this good and has a chance to really do it all.”
Edmonton’s Stuart Skinner ended on an opposite note. The rookie was pulled before the third period after allowing four goals on 17 shots. It marked the third time in six games against the Knights that he was removed early. Skinner finished with a .875 save percentage in the series.
3. Draisaitl disappears
Oilers center Leon Draisaitl, the NHL’s second-leading scorer in the regular season, opened the series with six goals in the first two games.
But the Knights shut him down after that. Draisaitl had one assist in the final four games. He was held off the scoresheet three times, after failing to record a point only 12 times in the regular season.
Draisaitl finished Sunday with a minus-4 rating. He was on the ice for all three of Marchessault’s goals, plus Karlsson’s empty netter.