**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**
I’m guessing if you were one of the 17,504 who were inside the Fortress Friday, you didn’t walk out of the building. More than likely, you floated your way out the doors and into the hot Las Vegas night.
You had the right to feel euphoric. You had just witnessed a great hockey game, one that may ultimately have saved your team’s season. It was played amid a loud, frenetic atmosphere, fiercely contested from both sides and exhilarating in the outcome.
But by winning Game 3, 3-2, the Golden Knights merely closed the gap between themselves and the Colorado Avalanche. They’re not out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot. However, there’s reason for optimism heading into today’s Game 4 as the Knights look to even the series and turn it into a best-of-three event.
The biggest cause for optimism? The team’s best players are finally showing up. Max Pacioretty, the team’s leading goal scorer during the regular season, appears to be getting comfortable again as he redirected the game-winner past Philipp Grubauer, who finally showed a human side to himself after being nearly impenetrable the first two games.
Jonathan Marchessault, another would-be goal scorer who has shown a flair for getting big goals, got the game tied with a little bit of puck luck after banking one off Grubauer and in to tie the game.
Then, there’s Marc-Andre Fleury, who once again is proving to be money in the postseason. He closed the door on the Avs down the stretch and made sure there’s going to be a Game 5 in Denver come Tuesday. It’s his net and there will be no controversy going forward.
I have no idea what’s going on with Robin Lehner. But his lack of availability is concerning, even if he never gets back in goal. The $12 million experiment was predicated on having two No. 1 goalies. That experiment appears to have run its course and Fleury will be tasked with taking his team as far as he can.
I knew Fleury was ready a minute into Game 3 when he whacked Brandon Saad in the back of his leg after Saad tried to engage in some extracurricular activity after the whistle. He was rock solid throughout and his robbery of Mikko Rantanen late in the game to prevent the Avs from tying it was a huge moment in this series.
But there’s more. There’s William Karlsson contributing offensively and winning faceoffs. There’s Mark Stone who kept the play alive along the boards, dropped the puck off to Nick Holden, whose shot from the left point was redirected by Pacioretty for the game-winner. Alex Pietrangelo had an assist and played better defensively. Shea Theodore was more engaged offensively. He has three assists in his last two games.
All of this points to what Pete DeBoer said after the win: “Your best players have to be your best players.” We’re seeing that, particularly in Game 3. That is something to build on heading into the all-important Game 4.
Let’s see Theodore continue to activate himself more into the attack. Let’s see the Misfit Line of Karlsson, Marchessault, and Reilly Smith continue to contribute. Let’s see Chandler Stephenson, Stone and Pacioretty make Nathan MacKinnon’s line work harder in the Colorado defensive zone and skate with them when the Knights lose possession.
And let’s have DeBoer leave his lineup the way it is. It’s unlikely Mattias Janmark is ready to return Sunday and Brayden McNabb remains on the NHL’s COVID-19 list. And they have both been missed. That said, Dylan Sikura is doing good things in Janmark’s spot and Holden has filled in splendidly for McNabb.
The question is, what does DeBoer do with Ryan Reaves? The veteran tough-guy forward has served his two-game suspension for his abuse of Ryan Graves in Game 1 and he is eligible to play. But given the performance of Keegan Kolesar, who has made the fourth line faster and more competitive, do you bring Reaves back?
I would not take Kolesar out. He, Patrick Brown, and Will Carrier are playing better than Colorado’s bottom forward line and while they have not scored, they are doing the job that you want from a fourth line — play with energy, maintain continuity and not be a defensive liability. But after hearing DeBoer’s comments Saturday when asked about Reaves, I think No. 75 will be in the lineup.
The atmosphere will once again be electric inside the Fortress for Game 4. Momentum is clearly with the Knights. They are starting to get some puck luck go their way and they know they can beat Grubauer and Colorado. Psychologically speaking, they appear to be in a good place. But now’s not the time to get cocky or overconfident. This can easily flip back to the Avalanche, and let’s not forget, the Avs still lead this series.
We have a lot of hockey left to play. Now it’s all about the next game. -Marchessault
The little ball of hate is absolutely correct. There’s still lots of work to do.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**