Jonathan Marchessault Scores Twice as Golden Knights Beat Jets to Even WCF at 1

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 15, 2018

WINNIPEG, MB - MAY 14:  Jonathan Marchessault #81 of the Vegas Golden Knights celebrates his third period goal against the Winnipeg Jets in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell MTS Place on May 14, 2018 in Winnipeg, Canada.  (Photo by Jason Halstead/Getty Images)
Jason Halstead/Getty Images

The Vegas Golden Knights evened up the 2018 Western Conference Final with a 3-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg on Monday night.

Jonathan Marchessault, who had 13 points in Vegas' first 11 games of the playoffs, was the star performer Monday, scoring two goals to add to his productive postseason.

Some wondered whether the Florida Panthers are lamenting how they let the 27-year-old go in the offseason:

In Game 1, the Jets jumped out to an early lead en route to their 4-2 victory. Winnipeg was up 3-0 before eight minutes of the game had elapsed.

Monday's matchup represented a stark contrast. Tomas Tatar put Vegas ahead 13:23 seconds into the opening period, and Marchessault added another at the 17:22 mark.

Good defense and even better timing led to Marchessault's goal to make it a 2-0 game. Reilly Smith won the puck back as the Jets were changing their line. That allowed the Golden Knights to have a big personnel advantage in the attacking zone, and Marchessault capitalized. The NHL shared a replay:

Kevin Bolinger of Fox 5 in Las Vegas added more perspective to the team's hot start:

As much as the Golden Knights' attack helped the team take control, Marc-Andre Fleury and the Vegas defense were excellent in making sure the two-goal lead held up. Fleury was back to his best after surrendering four goals on 26 shots in Game 1.

The three-time Stanley Cup champion is a big reason the Golden Knights reached the conference final, and he illustrated his importance Monday night. Fleury finished with 30 saves.

The longer the game went on, the more pressure Winnipeg applied to Fleury and the Golden Knights defense. Kyle Connor eventually got the Jets on the board with a power-play goal 7:17 into the third period. TSN's Pierre LeBrun summed up how the tide was turning in Winnipeg's favor:

But Marchessault answered 88 seconds later to put Vegas ahead 3-1, which largely sucked the energy out of the arena. Even though the Jets threw everything they had at Fleury in the final minutes, it wasn't enough to close the deficit.

Monday's game was exactly the kind of response the Golden Knights will have wanted after their resounding Game 1 defeat. Their title hopes rest largely on Fleury—with the third-best goals-against average (1.74) in the playoffs—and the defensive lines.

Vegas can't afford to let this series become a shootout, because they don't have the personnel to trade blows with what was one of the highest-scoring attacks in the NHL. The Golden Knights have a chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final if they keep the Jets to two goals or fewer.

The Western Conference Final shifts to T-Mobile Arena for Game 3 on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET. Taking home-ice advantage from the Jets could be critical for the Golden Knights. They were 29-10-2 at home during the regular season and have started 4-1 during the playoffs, with the lone loss coming in overtime.

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