If the Chicago Blackhawks were impressed with the Vegas Golden Knights before they began their Western Conference first-round series, they are even more in awe heading into Game 2 on Thursday afternoon in Edmonton.
That's because the Golden Knights flashed all their strengths in a 4-1 win in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series against the Blackhawks on Tuesday night.
"They're a very structured, simple team," Chicago defenseman Calvin de Haan told reporters. "They play a heavy game. You've got to tip your hat sometimes, they play well as a squad."
The Blackhawks reached the first round by upsetting the Edmonton Oilers in the best-of-five qualifying series. The Golden Knights are a much different team than the Oilers, however.
If the Blackhawks didn't realize that before, they do now.
"They're a good forechecking team," Chicago forward Brandon Saad said of Vegas. "They like to get pucks in deep, play simple, get over top of our guys. Their (defense) are big, they box out, they play strong."
The Golden Knights aren't lacking in skill either, as evidenced by their final two goals in the third period of Game 1, which turned a one-goal lead into a three-goal cushion.
The Golden Knights also bolstered their top lines with the return of Max Pacioretty, the team's leading goal and point scorer during the regular season who missed the three round-robin games with an undisclosed injury.
He finished minus-1 in 18:08 of ice time, taking four shots on goal.
"It was nice to have (Pacioretty) back," Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. "I thought he got better as the game went on, as our team did. It was nice to get a game under his belt because he really hasn't played one since he got hurt in the early part of training camp. He'll get better every night; you could see how dangerous he is."
The Golden Knights will likely start Robin Lehner in goal for the second straight game. He was hardly tested in Game 1, facing 20 shots and stopping all but a short-handed attempt by David Kampf, which came off a turnover in the Vegas zone.
Lehner twice had to deal with a dislodged skate blade in Game 1, the second time while the Blackhawks were on a power play. Regardless, Lehner said he feels confident on the penalty kill.
"I know a lot of (Chicago's) tendencies and know what they're trying to do on the power play, but it becomes a little bit of a reverse psychology," said Lehner, began the season with the Blackhawks before a February trade to Vegas. "I knew they were going to mix it up on me (in Game 1), and on all the in-tight chances, they tried to go five-hole. I kind of anticipated that before the game. Next game, they'll probably try something else."
The Blackhawks may change things up on their power play, but they understand what they need to do overall, and that's maintain possession at a higher clip.
"We had a lot of one-and-dones," Saad said of Game 1. "The biggest thing was getting out of our zone clean and playing hockey in their end. We just want to get as quick out of our zone as possible. When we get stuck in there, we're not going to get anything done."
--Field Level Media