Revisit the Vegas Golden Knights’ 4-2 series victory over the Edmonton Oilers to advance to the 2023 Western Conference Final.
Read all about the Golden Knights full road to the Stanley Cup Final here.
(Video courtesy of @NHL YouTube)
Vegas was by no means a hefty underdog heading into the Western Conference semifinal against the Edmonton Oilers, but many expected them to lose.
The presumption was that superstar Oilers duo Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl would be too much to handle for the Golden Knights. Edmonton was a -190 favourite to advance to the conference finals, and second-favourite to lift the Stanley Cup ahead of round two – behind only the Toronto Maple Leafs.
McDavid (153 points) and Draisaitl (128 points) were the league’s runaway points leaders in the regular season, and, after years of incomplete Oilers teams that dropped out of the playoffs early, the 2022/23 edition looked to be the one. The team won 50 games for the first time since 1986-87, when Wayne Gretzky led the line.
It takes more than two stars to win a Stanley Cup Playoff series, though, and few teams have represented team hockey in recent seasons more than the Golden Knights.
In six seasons as an NHL franchise, they’ve reached the conference finals a remarkable four times.
So how did Vegas dump out Edmonton in six games while preventing the two best hockey players in the world from taking over the series?
If there was one objective for the Golden Knights against Edmonton, it was to keep them from power play opportunities.
The Oilers were statistically the best power play team in NHL history in the regular season – with McDavid and Draisaitl at the core - scoring on a mind-boggling 32.4 percent of all PP opportunities.
Over six games against Vegas, that excellent clip (9/23, 39.1%) continued, although a 1/7 outing in Game 4 and a combined 0/3 in Games 3 and 6 – both in Edmonton – meant they couldn’t rely on their bread and butter.
All series, Vegas outperformed Edmonton greatly in even-strength scenarios. The Golden Knights outscored their opponents 18-9 in 5-on-5 across six games.
McDavid was his typically brilliant self, logging 10 points – five goals and five assists – in the series. Draisaitl, however, went cold after scoring a whopping six goals in the first two games of the series. The German registered just one point in the final four games.
A big reason for that was an unexpected Vegas hero, and in typical NHL playoff fashion, it was a backup goaltender.
Hill, a fifth-year pro, made his Stanley Cup Playoff debut in Game 2, then made his first postseason start in Game 4. At one point during the 2022/23 campaign, Hill was sent to the AHL to improve his conditioning.
In the final four games of the series, he held the NHL’s most explosive offensive team to nine goals, while posting a .932 save percentage.
Jonathan Marchessault has made a case for the best player in Golden Knights (brief) history these playoffs, with his performances against the Oilers at the top of his résumé.
Nowhere near the star power or notoriety of McDavid, Draisiaitl, or even some of his own teammates, Marchessault has developed a knack for stepping up in the biggest games and moments.
He didn’t log a single point across the first two games. Over the next four, three of which were Golden Knights wins, Marchessault put up five goals and three assists, topped off with a second period hat trick in the Game 6 clincher in Edmonton.
“We have a lot of older guys on the team that have been through a lot of situations,” Marchessault said after the series win, per AP News. “We don’t panic.”
The 32-year-old is undoubtedly one of those players, and could be the eventual Conn Smythe Trophy winner he maintains this level of clutch, timely production.