Considering their status as a Stanley Cup favourite heading into the playoffs, you may have predicted the Vegas Golden Knights would defeat the Minnesota Wild in their first-round matchup. But if you were to script this Game 7, it's safe to say you probably wouldn't have cast Mattias Janmark, Nicolas Hague, and Zach Whitecloud as the lead actors in this one.
With the Vegas stage set for the Golden Knights' star-studded cast to win their first Game 7 on home ice, it was this chorus of depth scorers who truly made the biggest difference on this night, with Janmark getting Friday's first, fifth, and final word to claim 6-2 victory over the Wild to move on to Act 2 against the Colorado Avalanche.
Since arriving in Vegas at the trade deadline as the Golden Knights’ lone roster addition, Janmark had just one goal to his name -- a regular-season marker on April 21. By the time he left the rink Friday night, he'd added three more.
Janmark's first of the night -- and of the post-season -- was a stunner to open the scoring, splitting Minnesota's defence and tucking it past Cam Talbot:
He added his second goal of the night midway through the third period to make it 5-2, then completed the hat trick with an empty netter four minutes later. He's the eighth player in NHL history to score a hat trick in a Game 7 -- a "dream come true," Janmark said after the game.
Let's look at that first goal from another angle:
Two minutes into the second period of the game, at that point tied 1-1, another unlikely hero: Nicolas Hague, who released a seeing-eye shot from the point right off the faceoff to beat Cam Talbot for his first career playoff goal. Later in the frame, it was his usual third-pairing partner, rookie Zach Whitecloud, who stepped up and showed off his elite shot after being set up by Shea Theodore.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 29, 2021
Patch is back
While five of Vegas' six goals were scored by Janmark, Hague, and Whitecloud, the game-winner belonged to the team's leading man, Max Pacioretty. Life without their top regular-season goal-scorer through the first six games of this series brought its challenges, with Vegas struggling to get its powerful offence firing and finish plays.
"Just writing his name on the board today in the lineup gave our group a lift. Playing for six games without him ... was a hill that our group had to climb, and it was critical that we got him back tonight," Vegas head coach Pete DeBoer told reporters after the game. "It changed, I think, everything."
With Pacioretty back in the lineup, the ripple effects were felt early and often throughout the roster, with DeBoer able to reunite his usual line combos that did so well in the regular season -- and put Janmark on that third-line wing, where he thrived. Bringing back Ryan Reaves brought a strong physical presence, too.
Of course, it wasn't just his general presence that made Pacioretty such a clutch addition on Friday. While at times he did not look 100 per cent, his signature shot was certainly on point -- a one-timer at close range that gave the Golden Knights a 3-2 lead seven minutes into the middle frame and served as the eventual game- and series-winning goal.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 29, 2021
This was Pacioretty's third career series-clinching goal and his second career Game 7 game-winner. He trails just Patrick Marleau (he's got five) and Patrice Bergeron (four) for most such goals among active NHLers.
Following the game, he didn't tip his hand with regards to the exact nature of the injury he's been dealing with but indicated it was something that he'd been "going back and forth" with in his recovery -- hence his game-time status throughout this series.
"We were unbeatable tonight," he said post-game.
Minnesota's defence runs out of gas
Vegas has been the deeper team all along, but Minnesota's ability to shut down that typically strong offence had been causing the Golden Knights problems all series, with no room for error on either side.
Minnesota's ability to claw their way back from being down 3-1 in the series to force Game 7 came with its bumps and bruises. Star forward Joel Eriksson Ek was dealing with an injury all game that stemmed from a scary collision with the goal post from Game 6. He appeared to aggravate the injury Friday night, and wasn't his usual dynamic self.
But the biggest toll taken was on defence, with Minnesota losing a key piece of its blue line in Jonas Brodin early in the game. Brodin was shoved hard into the boards and left the game early in the first period after playing less than two minutes, leaving the Wild with just five D-men for most of the matchup. Ryan Suter and Matt Dumba each played nearly half the game, clocking in at 28:50 and 28:47, respectively.
DeBoer stays perfect in Game 7
Going to wager a guess he'd like to avoid testing this record again.
Parise's final act?
A difficult season for Zach Parise ended with a tough series for the veteran forward, who was held out the first three games as a healthy scratch. While he kept quiet when asked about being scratched, citing a desire not to be a distraction to the team, you could tell he was playing with a little extra fire when he was slotted into the lineup after a broken arm took Marcus Johansson out. Parise scored in Game 5, registered an assist in Game 6, and on Friday night went between the legs for a crafty net-front goal to tie the game in the first period.
Parise's future in Minnesota has felt uncertain all season -- though, considering he's still under contract for four more seasons at $7.54 million per and has a no-move clause, he still holds the power here. After almost being traded last year, this season has brought plenty of speculation that the 2020-21 campaign could be his last with his hometown team. This will certainly be a storyline to watch in Minnesota this off-season. If this was in fact his last game with the club, he gave fans a vintage Parise goal as his final act.