LAS VEGAS – When Alex Pietrangelo signed with the Vegas Golden Knights in October, he didn’t mince words as to why he left St. Louis after 12 seasons.
“Obviously the atmosphere; I mean, I think everybody agrees it’s probably the best place to play in the NHL right now," he said. "They play the way I think the game should be played, so you want to go somewhere you feel comfortable and that you can help.”
His contributions Thursday night helped the Golden Knights move into the NHL’s final four for the third time in the franchise’s four years.
Pietrangelo scored his first goal of the postseason to break a tie late in the second period, and the Golden Knights defeated the Colorado Avalanche 6-3 in Game 6 of their second-round series to advance to the Stanley Cup semifinals.
Pietrangelo, who finished the series with 22 shots, 21 blocks, and a point in all four wins, now has 16 career points in 17 potential series-clinching games played.
“I thought he was the best player in the series, on either team,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “He was an absolute monster for us. Defensively, blocking shots, offensively, the goal tonight - that’s what we brought him here for, for this time of year, and those situations.”
Nick Holden, William Karlsson, Keegan Kolesar, William Carrier, and Max Pacioretty also scored for Vegas, which won four straight in the series and will next face the Montreal Canadiens.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 30 shots and moved into sole possession of fourth place all-time with 89 playoff wins.
Devin Toews, Mikko Rantanen, and Andre Burakovsky scored for Colorado. Philipp Grubauer made 17 saves for the Avalanche.
After firing a team-high 45 shots during the postseason, Pietrangelo’s 46th attempt found the back of the net with 18 seconds left in the second after he gathered a rebound from Alex Tuch’s shot that caromed off the end board, and he sent the puck top shelf to beat Grubauer and put Vegas up 4-3.
“That’s a bad average,” Pietrangelo said with a smile about his 1-for-46 clip. “Sometimes they all go in, sometimes none of them go in and you just continue to put yourself on a spot to score. You get the chances, the looks that you want, and eventually things will turn.
“Of all the chances I had, I wouldn’t have guessed that that’s the bounce I would have got.”
The third period belonged to Fleury, who stopped 11 shots in the final frame, including a one-timer by Valeri Nichushkin from the bottom of the circle to preserve the 4-3 lead with about 14 minutes left to play and keeping the momentum in Vegas’ favor.
Colorado, which blew a 2-0 series lead after winning Games 1 and 2 at home, becomes the eighth straight Presidents’ Trophy winner to bow out of the playoffs without making the Stanley Cup Final.
“Nobody wants to play just a good regular season and lose in the second round,” Rantanen said. “I know all of us wanted to win, that’s what we were pushing for.”
For Vegas, there were plenty of positives, starting with its depth. The Golden Knights have had 20 skaters register at least one point during the postseason, including 12 with at least one goal against the Avalanche.
“It’s the identity of this team — our depth,” DeBoer said. “Guys have sat out and then come back into the lineup ... we’ve had so many contributions from so many guys. How the guys have handled when they’re out, and then their ability to hop back in and make a difference for us, it’s been critical. You don’t beat a team like Colorado without that. We’re the sum of our parts. We don’t have that superstar power that they do.”
The Golden Knights didn’t need it, with guys like Holden, Kolesar, and Carrier also getting their first goals of the postseason.
“Dream about playing in games like this,” said Kolesar, one of the first players in the organization to take the ice at the team’s first-ever training camp in 2017. “Very excited to keep this journey going.”
The Avalanche did what they could to slow Vegas’ journey, as speedster Nathan MacKinnon took advantage of an early turnover, raced into the offensive zone with the puck and fed a streaking Toews, who beat Fleury with a snipe just 23 seconds in.
But an energetic announced crowd of 18,149 was reignited when Holden fired a shot from the point and through Grubauer’s five-hole, tying the game just 52 seconds later.
Karlsson snapped a one-timer between Grubauer’s skate and the post for his third goal and seventh point in the series to give Vegas a 2-1 lead. From there the teams exchanged goals until the game was tied at 3-all before the Golden Knights took charge in the final period to close the game out.
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