The NHL has done an excellent job of staggering Saturday’s action to give us playoff hockey all day on May 22. The late game of the quartet will be Game 4 between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Minnesota Wild. Much like what we saw prior to Game 3, the Golden Knights are a small road favorite in the -120 range at Bookmaker Sportsbook with a total of 5.5.
The line moved a little bit in Minnesota’s favor because there were rumors of some positive COVID tests for the Golden Knights. It was quickly determined that those were false positives, but the players in question had to be isolated and fly out separately. The late arrivals didn’t seem to be negatively impacted, as Vegas took a 2-1 series lead with a 5-2 win.
Let’s see what Game 4 looks like for the two teams on Saturday.
Vegas Golden Knights
Vegas took advantage of a lackluster performance from Cam Talbot and the Minnesota Wild to take back home ice and take the series lead for the first time. It wasn’t the most impressive of performances from Vegas at full strength. In fact, Vegas trailed 2-0 after one period before scoring five unanswered goals for the 5-2 victory. Three goals in the second period were the major turning point.
Vegas wasn’t that much better at 5-v-5 than Minnesota, as the Golden Knights had an xGF of 1.62 and the Wild had an xGF of 1.27. Both teams had seven high-danger chances at 5-v-5 and the Wild even had more scoring chances. The difference was Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury was equal to the task more often than Talbot was, as the Knights put four past Talbot on 39 shots.
The fifth goal came with an empty net, but Vegas took a lot out of Talbot and the Wild with five power play opportunities. The Knights didn’t score on any of them, which will be something they’d like to correct in Game 4, but they had 13 shots. Those were able to set the tone for certain stretches of the game and also kept Minnesota from getting into rhythm with ice time. By game’s end, Vegas outshot Minnesota 40-16.
Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter logged over five-and-a-half minutes of PK time. Killing penalties is tiring and it hurts the transition game because of the additional strain on the defensemen. Vegas will have to keep up that level of pressure and also keep drawing those man-advantage situations.
The Golden Knights got more from their biggest threats. Jonathan Marchessault didn’t score, but had six shots. Mark Stone had two goals. William Karlsson got rewarded for all of his efforts with a goal and a helper. The defensemen got to be active. These are all positive things heading into Game 4.
Playoff series are all about adjustments. What sorts of adjustments do we see from the Wild for Game 4? Staying out of the box would be a huge help, as being able to roll four lines and six defensemen is important at this time of the season. Minnesota got off to such a good start in the first period, but then failed to keep up that pressure and that style of play.
Both goals were scored right in front of Fleury, but Minnesota rarely got to the high-percentage scoring areas in the second or third periods. Any shots in close proximity to the net were from the sides. Basically Vegas turned Minnesota’s game back around on them and kept the Wild to the outside, much like Minnesota did for the last three periods of Game 1 and the early part of Game 2.
Cam Talbot has been under duress a lot in this series already. Vegas just keeps coming. Their pursuit is relentless and their speed is tough to match, especially with mobile defensemen in the transition game. Talbot has stopped 102 of 109 shots, so he has played very well, but he didn’t make the saves in Game 3 that he made in the first two games. A rebound from him will be the key for Minnesota in terms of tying the series.
Minnesota will have to make a lineup change after Marcus Johansson suffered a broken arm. He played just three shifts in Game 3, which made things even tougher for the Wild because they were shorthanded a lot and usually guys like Johansson are the ones you call upon to kill penalties. That extra ice time went to Nico Sturm, who played well, but had a lot more responsibility than Minnesota would have wanted.
Golden Knights vs. Wild Free Pick
This is where the line probably should have been for Game 3, but the news about Vegas’s potential positive cases and then the delayed travel had a minor impact on the price. The play of Fleury in this series and over the course of the season has been spectacular. Vegas made the right adjustments over the final 40 minutes of Game 3 and I think that was the turning point in the series.
They’ll head back home up 3-1 with a chance to finish it out at a raucous T-Mobile Arena on Monday.
Pick: Vegas Golden Knights