Adversity has not been a familiar opponent for the Vegas Golden Knights during this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
Right now, though, the Golden Knights find themselves in distress, trailing the Dallas Stars 2-1 in their best-of-seven Western Conference final heading into Game 4 Saturday night in Edmonton.
It’s not just the fact Vegas is behind — which is bad enough. Teams which win Game 3 after a series is tied 1-1 in NHL playoff history have a 70-percent victory rate in best-of-seven series, including 9-1 in the first two rounds of this year’s tournament. But making the torment worse is the fact the Golden Knights were the better team from start to finish in Thursday’s 3-2 overtime loss.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating, but we’re not going to throw ourselves a pity party,” forward Alex Tuch told reporters. “We’re not going to blame it on anyone. … No matter how much we felt like we should have won that game, we didn’t. And now we’ve got to move on.”
In Thursday’s game, Stars goalie Anton Khudobin stopped 38 of 40 shots. Khudobin met the challenge, including an 18-shot third period in which Vegas had all the pressure to twice erase a deficit but couldn’t net the winning goal.
“We’ve got to make it difficult,” Vegas forward Mark Stone said. “This goalie has played a lot of hockey. We’ve got to continue to push, put pressure on them. I think we’ve just got to keep battling them down. I think territorially, we’ve had the puck most of the last two games.”
Yet, it’s the Stars holding the upper hand, thanks to great goaltending and making the most of their scoring opportunities.
“We just feel like our group has faced a lot this year,” captain Jamie Benn said. “We’re resilient, have found a way to get things done.”
Getting things done so far also includes always winning in extra time. Dallas has won all three playoff games that have gone to overtime, going on the attack immediately each time and having outshot their opponents 17-3 in clashes beyond regulation.
“Let’s go for it. It’s one shot either way,” interim coach Rick Bowness said of his team’s philosophy in overtime. “That’s the message, don’t sit back. Attack. We’re at our best when we initiate and we’re skating and we’re going north. That’s the message: Let’s go for it.”
Of course, it helps when your goaltender is making all kinds of highlight reel stops when the game is on the line.
“We don’t get into overtime without him,” Bowness said of Khudobin. “He made some huge saves, especially on the penalty kill after we challenged, and so give him a lot of credit. We don’t win (Game 3) without his play.”
It’s the kind of play that has the Golden Knights looking for an answer. Although coach Pete DeBoer will only need to remind his charges they have done enough of the right things to lead a series, so sticking with the game plan is the best course of action instead of panicking.
“It was one of those nights,” DeBoer said. “They were opportunistic, and that’s what they are leading. The puck got on the wrong guy’s stick in the wrong spots for us, Benn and (Alexander) Radulov with a little bit of room. Those guys stick pucks in the net when they get those looks.”
–Field Level Media