The Golden Knights have been down 2-1 in a series just one other time. They would probably rather forget that Stanley Cup Final two years ago, where they were outscored 10-5 in the final two games to fall to the Capitals.
That’s a fate the Golden Knights are trying to avoid, taking on the Dallas Stars at 5 p.m. in a crucial Game 4 of the Western Conference Final. The team that scores first has won the first three games the series, so Vegas is looking for a fast start tonight at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
“We talked about that (yesterday) in our meeting. It’s going to be a focal point going forward,” Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore said. “I feel like when we do get the first one we can take better control of the game and play more to our style. That’s something we’re going to have to do.”
The games were different, but whichever team scored first set the tone. The Stars scored on their first shot in Game 1 and spent the rest of the game preventing Vegas chances. The Golden Knights hit it in heavy in the second period of Game 2 with three goals, chasing Dallas’ goalie and coasting through the third.
The Stars scored with 17 seconds left in the second period of Game 3, which seemed to wake the Golden Knights up in the third. They were tenacious, but were playing from behind the entire period — even then they scored, Dallas retook the lead.
Twice this series Dallas has been able to set the tone for the game with the first goal, and both times it’s led to a victory.
“Through three games I think what we’ve learned is Dallas is a very good defensive team and plays well within their structure and it’s a lot easier to play within that when the games tied or they have the lead,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “For me, that’s been a little bit of the story through three games is how do we get them in a hole and put that pressure on them to get out of their structure?”
The Golden Knights are 10-1 this postseason when scoring first and the Stars are 7-2.
Another problem facing the Golden Knights is the reuniting of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. They’re the Stars best forwards, and were split up in the first two games of the series. When the trio was on the ice at 5-on-5 in Game 3, the Stars generated 67% of the shot attempts and 68% of the expected goals, including Radulov’s overtime winner.
Separate they can create problems on their own, but together they can do what they did on Thursday and carry the Stars.
“When you put three good players together and they have chemistry, absolutely when you get a line going like they have a chance to win games single-handedly,” DeBoer said. “I don’t know tougher or easier (when they’re together or separate), I think it depends if you’re going and feeling it, and they were (in Game 3) and they finished on the opportunities that they got.”
Jonathan Marchessault called Game 2 when Vegas trailed 1-0 a “must-win” game, and it’s arguable the stakes are even higher tonight. Sportsbooks have instilled the Stars as the new favorite to win the series, and multiple predictions sites have the Stars with a better chance of moving on than the Golden Knights.
That just makes sense. The Stars are two wins from the Stanley Cup Final while Vegas is three. Those odds will tilt again regardless of tonight’s outcome, and the Golden Knights want to make sure they’re once again the favorite to move on.
Series: Stars lead 2-1
TV: NBC Channel 3
Radio: Fox Sports 1340 AM and 98.9 FM
Betting line: Golden Knights minus-165, Stars plus-145; over/under: 5.5 (plus-120, minus-140)
Golden Knights (12-6, Western Conference No. 1 seed)
Previous round: Defeated Vancouver in second round, 4-3
Coach: Peter DeBoer (first season)
Points leaders: Shea Theodore (18)
Goals leaders: Alex Tuch (8)
Assists leaders: Shea Theodore (11)
Expected goalie: Robin Lehner (1.92 GAA, .921 save percentage)
Stars (11-8, Western Conference No. 3 seed)
Previous round: Defeated Colorado in second round, 4-3
Coach: Rick Bowness (first season)
Points leaders: Miro Heiskanen (22)
Goals leader: Denis Gurianov, Joe Pavelski, Alexander Radulov (8)
Assists leaders: Miro Heiskanen (17)
Expected goalie: Anton Khudobin (2.77 GAA, .915 save percentage)
Golden Knights projected lineup
Jonathan Marchessault—William Karlsson—Reilly Smith
Alex Tuch—Chandler Stephenson—Mark Stone
Max Pacioretty—Paul Stastny—Nicolas Roy
William Carrier—Nick Cousins—Ryan Reaves
Brayden McNabb—Nate Schmidt
Alec Martinez—Shea Theodore
Nick Holden—Zach Whitecloud
Robin Lehner, Marc-Andre Fleury