The Golden Knights know what a 3-1 lead in a playoff series feels like. They know how hard that fourth win can be.
Vegas trails the Dallas Stars 3-1 in the Western Conference Final, needing a win at 5 p.m. tonight in Game 5 to keep the season alive. In the last round of the postseason, the Golden Knights were on the opposite side of things, up 3-1 against Vancouver before dropping two games to force a Game 7. And last year a 3-1 lead turned into a series loss against San Jose.
If it could happen to them, why can’t they be the ones to do it?
“There’s no quitters in that locker room,” forward Jonathan Marchessault said. “I know we’re going to battle until the end.”
The frustrating thing about the Golden Knights’ deficit is that so much of everything — the eye test, the stats, the gut feeling — says they should be winning. They’ve outshot the Stars in four games and have generated more scoring chances. Their goalie is playing well and they’ve allowed just six goals — half of which came in one game.
The problem is that the Stars are a punching bag, absorbing every hit without giving up an inch. They also have a goalie playing well, they’ve also allowed just six goals, and though they trail in the possession metrics, aren’t built in a way that needs them. They are plenty content to score just enough and run out the clock. It’s what they did in both Game 1 and Game 4.
Vegas was one of the best teams in the regular season, and until this round one of the more dominant teams in the playoffs. The game plan that got them here works, even if it hasn’t so far against the Stars. The Golden Knights’ best chance at winning isn’t blowing up the system and starting over, but tweaking it and making adjustments to a strong foundation.
“I think the worst thing we can do is analyze this to death and start changing a lot of things,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “If you can throw out double the amount of high-danger scoring chances against a team on a given night, you’re going to win most games and you’ve got to trust that’s eventually going to come around and swing your way.”
It’s worth noting that wasn’t the case in Game 4, according to Natural Stat Trick, where Vegas led 15-12 in high-danger chances, but almost was in Game 3 where Vegas led 15-9. His point though is clear. The Golden Knights have the edge 51-38 for the series, and that’s not typical of a team losing in the series.
The fact is though, that the Golden Knights are one loss from elimination while the Stars are one win from their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in two decades. Vegas reached the Final two years ago with a team widely considered to be not as good as this year’s squad, reminding everyone just how hard it is to win the Cup.
In 2018 everything broke right for the Golden Knights, and they didn’t need one Game 7 to run through the Western Conference. This year the Golden Knights have already needed one, and will need another if they’re going to make this comeback.
It will be forever remembered if the Golden Knights do indeed come back and win this series. The first step comes tonight in Game 5.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves or anything,” Marchessault said. “Playoffs are never over until it’s over. We can’t look at it like a big mountain right now, let’s focus on (tonight).”
Series: Stars lead 3-1
TV: NBC Sports Network (DirecTV 220, Cox 38, CenturyLink 640)
Radio: Fox Sports 1340 AM and 98.9 FM
Betting line: Golden Knights minus-175, Stars plus-155; over/under: 55 (minus-120, EVEN)
Golden Knights (12-7, 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 (1.93 GAA, .919 save percentage)
Stars (12-8, 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: Joe Pavelski (9)
Assists leaders: Miro Heiskanen (17)
Expected goalie: Anton Khudobin (2.67 GAA, .918 save percentage)
Golden Knights projected lineup
Max Pacioretty—William Karlsson—Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault—Paul Stastny—Reilly Smith
Nick Cousins—Chandler Stephenson—Alex Tuch
William Carrier—Nicolas Roy—Ryan Reaves
Brayden McNabb—Nate Schmidt
Alec Martinez—Shea Theodore
Nick Holden—Zach Whitecloud
Robin Lehner, Marc-Andre Fleury