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The Golden Knights Haven’t Been Here Before, But They Feel Like They Have

The word of the day in the Golden Knights locker room was “doubt.” It’s a word that’s all too familiar to expansion team who now finds itself in a 3-1 hole in the Stanley Cup Finals. They’ve been doubted every step of the way, and now they hear the doubt from the outside creeping back up, maybe as strong as it ever has, and they are ready to relish the opportunity like they have before.

It would be another crazy element to the fairy tale. As if it needs another one. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

I asked Nate Schmidt if there was more doubt now or before the opening game of the season. He gave the classic puzzled Schmidt look, thought about it for about 10 seconds, and said “equal.”

They’ve never been down 3-1 in a series. They’ve tied their longest losing streak of the year. They are facing a climb no team has successfully made since the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs. Quite simply, they’ve never been here before, but in a way, it kind of feels like they have.

I don’t think anyone thought we could make it to this point now, and I know a lot of people that are already giving it to Washington and saying the Cinderella story is over but we’ve been resilient all year and we’ll be ready for tomorrow. We are not looking past tomorrow. -Alex Tuch

We’re going to do what we’ve done all year. We’re just going to focus on the next game and see where it takes us. Stuff that we’ve done this year has never been done. -Jonathan Marchessault

What they’ve done all year is win. At every pass, they’ve proven the doubters wrong and found a way. Now, down 3-1, they’ll look to do it again; all the while trying to do the only thing they really set out to do in the first place.

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May The Real Golden Knights Please Stand Up

Play like the Golden Knights and win Game 4. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Jonathan Marchessault used the words “must-win” three times in the first two questions during his morning skate media availability. That term has been thrown around by others in the moments since the Golden Knights went behind 2-1 in the Stanley Cup Final, the deepest they’ve trailed in a series all postseason. However, the focus is inward, looking at themselves to get back to the style of hockey that’s gotten them to this point, something they believe they haven’t played in any of the three games this series.

We haven’t shown our game yet, that’s the reason we are down by one. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Bellemare believes the fix is easy too.

Small details. Late on the forecheck, sometimes forwards are not reloading as hard as they have been all year. It’s the Final, so being close to a player isn’t good enough, you have to be on him. At the end of the day I feel like we’ve been able to play our game against any team we’ve played and it shouldn’t be any different if we are all committed to it, it’s as simple as that. -Bellemare

His message has also comes through on the ice. The Golden Knights fourth line has been consistently excellent in the series, scoring goals, checking both ways, and controlling play a majority of the time they are on the ice.

It’s just making the right play at the right time. If the play’s not there in the middle then just chip it (in). The best example is the Bellemare line, they play a simple game and they have a lot of success. I think we should definitely play more like that. -Marchessault

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Scoring First Is Great, What Vegas Does With It Is Better

If VGK jumps out ahead of Washington like they did Winnipeg, it might be another quick series. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In the Western Conference finals, the team that scored the first goal of the game won all five games. Pretty simple formula. However, it was what Vegas did once they had the first lead of the game that really determined the series. The Jets tied things up in Games 3, 4, and 5, but failed to take ever over a lead. After Game 1, Vegas never allowed Winnipeg to take a lead in the series.

It definitely is a testament to great goaltending. Its something special, especially with all of the big saves. It’s a common effect when Marc has the net. -Reilly Smith

There’s no question Marc-Andre Fleury has been the difference maker for Vegas this postseason, his brilliance has made it easier for teammates do their job.

We played well defensively, our goalie was tremendous. We made the right play at the right time. Time after time the way we play, the right plays happen more often than not. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Against Winnipeg, the Golden Knights played disciplined, made quick decisions moving the puck, and capitalized on forced mistakes. In 300 minutes played against the Jets in the WCF, Vegas had the lead for an astounding 194 minutes.

Game 1: Vegas @ Winnipeg
WPG Time in Lead: 58:55
Tied: 1:05
VGK Time in Lead: 0:00

Game 2: Vegas @ Winnipeg
WPG Time in Lead: 0:00
Tied: 13:23
VGK Time in Lead: 46:37

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Golden Knights Ability To Force Errors Continues To Leave Opponents Shaking Their Heads

They’ll call the Golden Knights opportunistic. They say Vegas capitalizes on others mistakes, and they’ll throw out quotes like this…

We win that game nine times out of 10. Tonight was the one. -Blake Wheeler, Jets captain

Those terms don’t resonate for the Golden Knights though because they don’t believe dumb luck is what’s making it happen.

Sometimes you create your own bounces. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

You go do what you can on your shift, and you rely on the next guy to go do his job on his shift, and hopefully that wear and tear will eventually push them into making a play they don’t want to make. Nate Schmidt

This is a look many goaltenders have had at T-Mobile Arena. It’s a look of confusion, but it shouldn’t be.  (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Vegas is tenacious on the forecheck, they hound teams in the neutral zone, they transition from defense to offense faster than any team in the NHL, they roll four dangerous lines and three solid d-pairings, and they have high-end talent that finish the chances when they come.

This isn’t a mirage, this is a darn good hockey team and it doesn’t take much to end up on the wrong side of the result when teams play against them.

Most people will call the mishaps of the Jets, Sharks, and Kings mistakes, but it’s probably best to call them something else. “Forced errors” is the term that popped into my head, but if you’ve got a better one let me hear it. No matter what we call them though, the Golden Knights are the best in the league at creating them.

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Vegas Losing Battle Of Fourth Lines, Especially In Games 3 And 4

Could use a little more of this in Game 5. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Vegas is a team known for its ability to use all four lines in a game. Prior to the series, we talked about San Jose having the same luxury, and it showed on Wednesday night.

It’s important for us to use everybody and try to save energy. We want to make sure our top guys are fresh. Those are the guys that carry the mail for us. -Eric Fehr, San Jose forward

In Game 4, San Jose’s fourth line of Melker Karlsson, Marcus Sorensen, and Fehr were +3 with 2 points (on an illegal “pick” play). Depth scoring is essential in the postseason, but like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s line, San Jose’s fourth isn’t expected to score. Both Coaches expect their depth forwards to clog, pressure, dump, check, eat minutes, and maintain the score.

It was kind of a mix and match. As the game went on we were really just trying to win our matchup with whoever was out there. -Fehr

Fehr logged 12:24 TOI, and created issues for Vegas whenever the center hit the ice. He was four out of five in neutral zone draws, and 70% overall from the faceoff circle. Fehr’s line quieted both third line wingers David Perron and Tomas Tatar. Cody Eakin’s second period shot was the only one on net for the Golden Knights third line the entire night.

We want to do our part when we’re out there chipping in. -Fehr

Fehr sounds like Bellemare after a successful Golden Knights game. Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic couldn’t speak enough about the importance of San Jose’s role players.

It’s our depth that has helped us get this far. The guys that don’t play as much as other guys have stepped up. Played their role and we’re getting contributions from all four lines. Which is what you need in the playoffs. -Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose defenseman

When the Golden Knights get the most out of their fourth line, the game is in VGK’s control. Vegas will deploy the Bellemare-Nosek-Carrier line to win situational matchups throughout the game. When Vegas isn’t getting their normal production from the fourth line it makes Jack Adams finalist Gerard Gallant’s job of balancing lines more difficult. Same goes for the other side.

Well we wouldn’t be here without it. Our guys have recognized the importance of depth and depth scoring for teams that find a way to win. -Pete DeBoer, San Jose head coach

Gallant should expect a bounce back game by his entire team tonight, including Bellamare and the fourth line. Depth can be the difference in this series, and Vegas has the horses to pull it off. It’s just a matter of which team’s fourth line can be more effective, and up in San Jose, it wasn’t the Golden Knights.

Blocking Burns’ Shots Top Priority For Bellemare

“If you’re not willing to pay the price then you have no reason being here.” (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s no secret the Golden Knights will get a heavy dose of Brent Burns’ dangerous shot from the point this series.

He’s probably one of the best, or the best, in the league at finding a way to get the puck to the net. He’s got a long reach and he can shoot from far away. You can’t go down that easily but you can’t give him too much time. He can make you look like a fool. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

An average slap shot from the Sharks defenseman can register up to 90 MPH. At points throughout the series, Jack Adams Finalist Gerard Gallant will have to deploy his unit of shot blocking warriors. Led by the fearless Bellemare.

I make sure what I’m covering is the entire net. So, whatever shot that goes beside me will miss the net. That’s all I’m thinking. -Bellemare

Bellmare takes the simple approach to blocking attempts from bombers like Burns. His main objective is to cut off angles and net views which forces shooters to pass the puck or skate around searching for open shooting lanes. Also, mix in a touch of Bellemare grit and devotion.

He’s a tough guy to block a shot but it’s really all about dedication. How much you want to block that puck? If you can’t block it you got to find a way to get something in the way. That’s all you need just a little piece of the body, stick or the blade. -Bellemare

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Rolling Four Lines Pays Off In The Long Run

Tomas Nosek is secretly one of the most important players on the Golden Knights. He’s so much more than “that guy who scored the first home goal.” (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

All-Star head coach Gerard Gallant created a few cliches for his team that he’s spent the last six months repeating to the media every chance he’s gotten. Things like “one game at a time,” “work hard and have fun,” and “roll four lines.” They are all obvious for a coach, but usually, they have little actual meaning and are more like those motivational posters supposedly successful people hang in their office.

Every once in a while though one of those sayings manifests itself from a cliche into reality. The Golden Knights won Game 3, and are now ahead 3-0 in the series because of their conditioning, because after a double overtime game in Game 2, Vegas came back and was the fresher team for 60 minutes, and especially the last 20. That’s not because they were taking it one game at a time or that they were working harder than the Kings, it’s because they’ve rolled four lines all season long and it’s allowed them to keep playing the same way, with the same speed and ferocity, even after a 95 minute marathon two days prior.

We’ve never relied on anybody to create all the offense or all the defense. It’s really a great job by Turk (Gallant) to stay the course with that. There were games this year where we were losing and maybe a couple guys wanted more ice time but that’s why he coaches that way so that situations like this happen in the playoffs and we just play the same way. -David Perron

The Golden Knights did not have a single player in the top 50 in total ice time in the regular season. William Karlsson ranked 30th among centers in average time on ice, and Vegas’ first winger to appear in the ATOI rankings was Reilly Smith at 38th among all wingers.

The reason Gallant spread his minutes out all season wasn’t that he had Game 3 of Round 1 in mind, it’s because he could get away with it. Most coaches want to roll four lines and keep everyone fresh, but they can’t because there’s a major drop-off in play from top line to bottom. Most teams, like the Kings, have a group of high-end players and a group of below average players. Not the Golden Knights.

Whatever shifts we got we created those bounces that created those momentum shifts and we know the bench gets excited when we play that way, so it’s not that difficult for us to recreate that. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

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3 Goals In 155 Minutes; Are The Golden Knights Creating Enough Offense To Keep Winning?

This Quick guy is pretty good, but no goalie is unbeatable. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights lead the Los Angeles Kings 2-0 in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they’re averaging just one goal every 51:48 minutes of the series. Over the course of the regular season, the Golden Knights averaged a goal every 18:05.

The shot totals have been there. The scoring chance numbers are there. The possession numbers are there as well, but the puck simply hasn’t found its way past Jonathan Quick often.

He’s been amazing that’s for sure but I think we are making his life a little easier than we want. Shot decisions from the outside are not too bad but our secondary chances need to be better, that’s how we are going to get more goals on him. -Jonathan Marchessault

Quick made 54 saves in Game 2, one of the best games he’s put together in his career, but there’s always a way to beat a great/hot goalie and that’s to create chances no goalie can stop. Deflections, tips in front of the goal, rebounds, and cross-ice passes often lead everyone watching a game to say, “well, the goalie had no chance on that one.” Vegas’ goal in Game 1 was a deflection, the first goal in Game 2 was a rebound, and the game-winner was actually somewhat of a mistake by Quick (he whiffed on a poke check).

Two unsavable shots over the course of nearly eight periods, is that really enough offense to win a playoff series?

Enough to win two games. At the end of the night, if you get wins at this time of the year, that’s the most important thing. For our group we do want to put more goals up but we are playing the best defensive team in the league and they are doing a good job. -Marchessault

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Golden Knights Face “Pressure” Unlike Any Other Playoff Team

On numerous occasions this year, TSN’s legendary reporter Bob McKenzie has declared the Golden Knights to be the best story he’s ever covered in hockey. For an expansion team that goes on to tally 109 points, never experience a four-game losing streak, dominate the Western Conference, and eventually be crowned champions of the Pacific Division, it’s hard to disagree with him. But every great story needs an ending, and not every ending is as great as the story that led up to it.

When you go into the playoffs you are not going to be satisfied just to be in the playoffs. Right now my expectation is to have a great series and move on to the next round, but I understand that all over the town the expectation is a little more than that because we aren’t going to lie to each other, it’s a cool story, we are a cool story. So when we stop, everyone is going to be like “ahhh, it’s too soon,” for everybody, not just for the players, but for the town. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

It’s been a ride that’s captured the hearts of every resident of Las Vegas, most hockey fans, and the sports world in general, but what will the Golden Knights do next?

I think there is a hope. The expectation from the media is “I hope this team goes far” because it’s been a great story and nobody wants it to end. -Bellemare

That hope brings unique expectations on the Golden Knights. Unlike the Predators, Penguins, Capitals, Lightning, Bruins, or any of the other top teams, Vegas isn’t necessarily expected to win the Stanley Cup. But also unlike the Avalanche or Devils, the Golden Knights are not without outside pressure to perform.

I don’t like the word pressure. That word, I just don’t like it. I think it brings negativity in the air. I don’t know what word would be better, but I just don’t like the word pressure. I know the swings that you go through, good and bad. I’ve been down (in series), I’ve been up in series, and you’ve just got to ride those things and you’ve got to stick together as a group, and just have fun with it. This is supposed to be fun and hopefully it lasts a long time. -Erik Haula

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News And Notes From VGK vs CBJ

These two weren’t playing together, but they both played well. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Bounce Back for D

  • Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland played a big role shutting down the Devils young, quick forwards.
    • McNabb TOI – 24:55, 11 Hits, 11 Defensive Zone Starts, -1 Rating
    • Engelland TOI – 24:27, 3 Hits, 10 Defensive Zone Starts, +1 Rating, 1 Goal
  • Golden Knights allowed less than 10 “High Danger” scoring chances for the first time in their last six games.

Ending the Losing Streak

The victory ended the Golden Knights three-game skid. Along with eight other teams, Vegas hasn’t dropped four straight games this season. All eight teams are playoff contenders.

Minnesota: (1) 3 game losing streak
Nashville: (1) 3 game losing streak
Tampa: (1) 3 game losing streak
Winnipeg: (1) 3 game losing streak
Washington: (2) 3 game losing streaks
Dallas: (3) 3 game losing streaks
Pittsburgh: (3) 3 game losing streaks
Vegas: (3) 3 game losing streaks

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