The Golden Knights have a second chance tonight to take a stranglehold on the Stanley Cup Final and defeat the Florida Panthers in their building. After a game in which Vegas felt they played well but just let it get away late, they are very confident in their ability to turn the page, wash away the thoughts of Game 3, and go out and win Game 4.
We’re really good at flipping the switch and getting ready for the next game, so today’s no different. We had a good day yesterday to regroup and then today we were able to look at some things technically and get our minds right. -Pietrangelo
As they have done all of the postseason when they’ve had a day in between road games, they took the day off from hitting the ice. No practice, no trip to FLA Live Arena, and very little focus on either what went wrong in Game 3 or what they need to do to correct it tonight.
Instead, the focus is on the bigger picture and remembering exactly why they are here and what they have a chance to accomplish.
We’re all acutely aware of what we’re playing for and I don’t think it’s a bad thing to feel like they need to discuss it. I’ve made my feelings known to make sure to remember what we’re playing for. Refocus on the long-term goal and then the next day it’s back to the short-term goal with a mentality of details and what it’s going to take to get there. -Cassidy
Having a host of players on the team that have been to the mountaintop helps in that aspect.
Having been here before the biggest thing for me is to not overthink it. Worry about the game when we get there tonight. You don’t want to sit there all day thinking about the game. -Pietrangelo
The Golden Knights have lost consecutive games just once this season, and they believe it’s because of their tremendous ability to refocus their energy and get back to the style of play they know has been successful thus far.
Tonight, in Game 4, they know what’s coming from the Panthers.
I expect that they’ll want to replicate the recipe they had in the 1st period trying to get on top of us and getting in on the forecheck. That’s with pressure, the D are up forcing us to make plays under duress and reloading hard. I thought we didn’t execute as well as we could have and maybe that’s from travel or the crowd or whatever but I expect us to pick up where we left off in the 2nd period and on. -Cassidy
Typically odd-numbered games are the swing games in a series, but tonight’s Game 4 will play a massive role in how everyone views the next three days. A 3-1 series lead will have thoughts and dreams of parades and winning at home running wild, a 2-2 tie would be completely different.
For nearly 58 minutes last night, the Golden Knights were the better team. Hockey can be cruel though, and unfortunately, Vegas had to endure another lesson on the unpredictability of the best sport on the planet.
The commanding 3-0 Stanley Cup lead vanished and now the Panthers have a heartbeat where it felt like they were heading for life support.
The preponderance of the game may not have led to the outcome the Golden Knights were searching for, but that does not mean it did not exist nor that it can’t be learned from. There was plenty of good with just a sprinkle of bad. Here’s what went right, what went wrong, and what needs to change for Vegas heading into Game 4 tomorrow night.
What went right
Probably the strongest aspect of the Golden Knights’ game not only last night, but in the series as at large, has been their penalty kill. Vegas is a sterling 12 for 12 on the kill and caused the Panthers to struggle in many areas with the man advantage.
The strongest among them has been Vegas’ entry defense. Time and time again when Florida is attempting a power play breakout they’ve run into troubles at the VGK blue line. So much so that their most successful entry attempts have come by dumping the puck in. In addition, the Golden Knights have been excellent at clearing the puck when they get it on their sticks. If Vegas gets a touch, there’s a strong possibility the puck is headed 200 feet the other way.
Finally, the Golden Knights made adjustments inside of the penalty kill that helped on the later Florida Power plays.
They looked like they didn’t have the quick efficient movement like they did in Game 2 so we took some things away. What they did was hit (Sam) Reinhart in the bumper a few times and that’s something we corrected as we went along. -Cassidy
Florida was able to work the puck into Reinhart three times on a pair of power plays in the 2nd period. The final one in the 2nd and the only in the 3rd, Vegas denied that option and it further stymied the Panther power play.
Protecting the house
When you look at the shot chart from Game 3 it appears the Panthers had a lot of activity around the front of the Golden Knights’ net. However, in reality, despite the puck being there a lot more often than Vegas would prefer, Florida was not able to generate offense from directly in front of the goal.
Florida attacked from every different angle and with varying numbers advantages or disadvantages and the Golden Knights had the answer for all of them at even strength. Vegas racked up 31 shots protecting the center and there were countless numbers of stick checks that broke up plays before Florida could even attempt the shot.
Adin Hill was clean on most of his rebounds and on the ones he wasn’t the first stick on the puck in the blue paint or anywhere close was almost always by a player wearing white and gold.
Neutral zone structure
In the 2nd period the Golden Knights put on a clinic in how to defend a dangerous team through the center of the ice. Vegas constantly had at least four players between the puck and the goal when the Panthers would get it and they displayed excellent structure through the middle of the ice on every Florida breakout.
The neutral zone effectiveness led to Florida generating just four shots on goal, three scoring chances, and 0.16 expected goals at 5-on-5 in the middle frame. The Panthers were constantly caught in between on whether to dump-and-chase or try for the controlled entry and that indecision led to multiple rush chances for the Golden Knights.
What went wrong and what needs to change
Dealing with bad ice conditions
It’s something the Golden Knights have struggled with for quite some time now, at FLA Live Arena in particular. Vegas entered the game knowing they’d likely encounter some turbulence when trying to slide the puck along the ice, but they didn’t seem to react to it quickly enough at the start of the game. Florida dominated loose puck battles in the 1st period and it helped ignite their forecheck which had struggled through the first two games.
As the game went on, Vegas started to settle in, but they still believe they could have managed the poor ice better.
When the ice isn’t great sometimes you have to dumb it down a little bit and simplify the game. -Alex Pietrangelo
This really cropped up a bit late in the 3rd period when the Golden Knights began to exhibit some issues exiting the zone. Through almost all of the first nine periods, Vegas had been clean on their exits including short one-touch passes that broke Florida’s pressure. But, with the challenging ice conditions, those passes can be a bit more difficult to complete as the puck has a tendency to bounce uncontrollably.
Simpler exits can fix this. Rather than going for the clean, pretty play, Vegas may need to rely a bit more on things like dump, chip, or rim outs. This is especially important when playing with the lead as there is no longer a need to generate offense from these types of clean exits. Vegas wasn’t terrible in this department, but they definitely can improve.
Defending against the empty net
This one is obvious considering the result, but it’s been a persistent issue through the postseason for the Golden Knights. In three separate series, the first game in which Vegas faced an empty net they’ve given up a goal in the same manner. Winnipeg, Dallas, and Florida have all outnumbered Vegas in front of the goal on a rebound and poked home a massive goal to send each game to overtime.
What must change for the Golden Knights is an increased awareness of when to pressure the puck when it along the walls or at the points. Vegas’ zone defense at 5-on-5 has these keys down to a science and they’ve left the Panthers, Stars, and Jets before them all frustrated with their own inability to get to the center of the ice. But once the extra skater is out there the keys must change. On all three goals, including the massive one to tie the game last night, Vegas has found themselves losing a board battle with a defenseman away from the middle of the ice. In last night’s game, it didn’t lead directly to the goal, but it did lead to a scramble which eventually allowed Matthew Tkachuk to find inside positon on the rebound of the following shot.
There’s a fine line when playing against six skaters on when to attack and when to sit back. The Golden Knights know how to do it, and they’ve displayed it multiple times during the regular season and playoffs, they just need to walk that line a little better the next time the situation arises.
There’s a reason the NHL makes teams play seven times to determine which team is better. It’s because in this sport, the better team doesn’t always win. The Golden Knights have been the better team in all three games thus far in the Stanley Cup Final. It’s earned them a 2-1 series lead. And even though it feels like it could (maybe should) be 3-0, if Vegas continues to be the better team all series, those final two wins will come.
Over the past two series, Vegas goaltender Adin Hill has performed like a Conn Smythe candidate. Mark Stone and Jack Eichel are the headliners but the Golden Knights backstop is becoming an overnight sensation in 549 postseason minutes in net.
On the flip side, the Dallas Stars had full confidence in starting goaltender Jake Oettinger coming into the playoffs. It wasn’t a question of who would be in the net for the Stars. Through 18 postseason starts, Oettinger hasn’t been as sharp as he was for Dallas in the regular season The 24-year-old is significantly below his career averages in goals allowed per game and save percentage. Hill, however, has exceeded all expectations.
So what should we expect from the two netminders tonight in Dallas?
Every time our team’s stumbled, every time he’s had a stumble, his response has been exactly like it was tonight. I had no doubt that’s what we were going to get. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet. I think he’s starting to heat up here too. -Pete DeBoer
Stars coach Pete DeBoer has seen his share of goalie adventures in the past. In 2012, an ageless Martin Brodeur led DeBoer’s Devils to a Stanley Cup Final. As Sharks coach, he had long runs with Martin Jones, and several failed runs with Martin Jones. And, like VGK fans, I’m sure DeBoer has wiped Marc-Andre Fleury’s 2021 Conference Final blunder away from his memory.
For the first 10+ games of this playoff run one of the most consistent parts of the Golden Knights’ game has been their 4th line. No matter what has been going on with the group ahead of them, the grinders on the 4th line have gotten the job done night in and night out.
The Western Conference Final started out that way as Teddy Blueger came up with the go-ahead goal in the 3rd period. In Game 2 the 4th line was the only group that had any consistent success at 5-on-5, out-attempting the Stars 10-3, out-chancing them 3-0, and managing multiple high-danger chances without allowing one.
From there though, and especially in the past two games, it’s headed in the wrong direction for the depth players in gold.
Our 4th line didn’t do what it typically does in terms of puck possession in the O-Zone and then they were forced to play and got outworked in the D-Zone. So that’s something I expect to change. Whether Howden’s on that line, Blueger, or Nic Roy, they have to do a better job against their 4th line. Give credit to that line for Dallas, they outplayed our guys. -Cassidy
The group of Radek Faksa, Fredrik Olafsson, and Luke Glendening dominated the Golden Knights’ 4th line in Game 5 including the massive goal that tied the game. That group posted a 92% expected goals share against the VGK 4th line and did not allow William Carrier, Keegan Kolesar, and Brett Howden anything near the front of the net.
In many ways, it set the tone for the rest of the team.
That was one part of the game where that slot battle comes into play and that urgency tilts the game in their favor. When our 4th line is going well like that, our game goes better. They did some good things but they have to get back to who they are and their identity. -Cassidy
Vegas had troubles in many areas of the ice last night, including giving the puck away 24 times, but the largest area of concern is directly in front of the net. After being basically even through two games, the Golden Knights now trail 63-48 in high-danger chances in the series. Even as good as Adin Hill has been, the Stars have scored five goals from high-danger chances in the past two games, they had just three in the first three.
That’s our group, next man up. We got contributions from everyone. I mean that’s a gutsy win being down a couple of guys and coming in here. I like our group and I wouldn’t bet against them. -Pete DeBoer
To turn this around and secure that final win, the Golden Knights must get back to getting contributions up and down the lineup. Vegas’ depth has made line matching difficult for opposing coaches, especially in road games. With Game 6 taking place at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Vegas is going to need everyone to get back to playing the way they were.
Adin Hill has been so good this postseason I’ve actually bookmarked the thesaurus entry for outstanding on my web browser so I can keep coming up with new ways to describe him.
Marvelous. Extraordinary. Remarkable.
No matter which adjective speaks to you most, Hill has personified all of them and it is…
419 goalies have played at least nine games in a single playoff run. Adin Hill currently sits tied for 21st all time among them with a .938 save percentage. Two of the three goalies he’s tied with are Curtis Joseph and Dominik Hasek. Hill is ahead of Andrei Vasilevskiy’s run in 2021, ahead of Hall of Famers Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall from the late 50’s and 60’s, and even a few points ahead of Carey Price the year the Canadiens eliminated the Golden Knights.
And it’s not like he’s doing this without seeing a lot of action. The Golden Knights have allowed 33.7 shots per game in Hill’s nine appearances, also ranking top 25 all time.
The advanced numbers love Hill’s game too. He’s stopped 5.02 goals above expected in this round alone according to NaturalStatTrick.com and he’s amassed 6.4 total in his nine games for 0.78 per game. To compare, in the Golden Knights last run to the Cup Final, Marc-Andre Fleury posted 8.5 goals saved above expected in 20 games or 0.41 per game, almost half of what Hill is doing.
Per MoneyPuck.com’s wins above replacement stat, Hill has added 1.06 wins to the Golden Knights’ tally. Which, considering the fact that he’s supposed to be the “replacement” is… click here, you pick one.
Now that I know literally every word in the English language to try to describe the last three weeks the Golden Knights have experienced with Hill in the net, the word that fits best is unbelievable.
So unbelievable it’s making the thought of Vegas being the next word engraved on hockey’s holy grail very believable.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. No team in NHL history has come back from an 0-3 conference finals deficit. The downward-spiraling Dallas Stars will try and begin a historic run tonight with a win in Game 4. Win or lose, in all likelihood the Golden Knights have done enough to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s just a matter of when.
So, what should the Golden Knights expect from a Stars team that the record books have shown they have nothing to play for?
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. That’s the approach we’re going to take with the rest of the series. We’re not going to get back in the series tomorrow night, but we’ll take a bite and see what happens. – Pete DeBoer, DAL coach
As former NHL goaltender Mike McKenna reminds us weekly; hockey players have a lot of pride. So, of course the Stars have something to play for but it’s unlikely to be for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl. It’s hard to believe Dallas’ locker room, coaching staff and fanbase have any confidence in a four-game win streak but a victory in Game 4 would give them some sense of false hope. Even if Dallas can return home for a desperate Game 6, history is still heavily against them.
Assuming Vegas comes out as sharp as they have all series, the home team will be up against it from the opening puck drop. The Golden Knights will be hungry to sweep the series and earn as much rest as the Eastern Conference champions Florida Panthers. Dallas will be down two impact forwards but it’s not the focus around the locker room. The Stars are taking a simple approach into tomorrow’s elimination game.
We’re just worried about trying to get our first win in this series. That’s all that matters. We’re going to have to play desperate hockey now. Our lives are at stake here and I’m looking forward to it. This group has answered when our backs are against the wall. We’re going to find a way to muster up a good 60 minutes and find a way to beat a really good team. We’re going to have a hungry team tomorrow – Max Domi, DAL forward
It’s not uncommon in the game of hockey to see someone lose their cool. It is however quite rare is to see an entire NHL team and the 18,532 people in the arena cheering for them do it all at the same time.
It started less than two minutes into the game after the Golden Knights took a quick 1-0 lead when Stars captain Jamie Benn viciously crosschecked Mark Stone in the face while he was laying on the ice. As a captain often does, Benn set the tone for what was to come with his team and his fan base for the rest of the night.
Three more Vegas goals, and about 90 minutes later, while Max Domi was being called for as blatant a boarding penalty as you’ll ever see, Stars fans began showering the ice with beers, rally towels, and whatever else they could find to hurl over the boards. It got so bad the 2nd period couldn’t even be completed as the officials sent both teams to the locker room with 21 seconds left on the clock as the ice crew cleaned up the debris.
Everyone in the building was frustrated tonight. -Pete DeBoer
Adin Hill’s popcorn shower is the visual confirmation DeBoer hit the nail on the head.
On the other side, there were the Golden Knights, who just kept playing their brand of hockey.
Games have gotten like that and we’re right there with each other. I’ve never seen it phase us really. -Nic Hague
Yes, many games this postseason “have gotten like that” and no longer can it just be chalked up to the competitiveness of playoff hockey, instead, tonight, we learned the real catalyst of the frustration experienced by the Stars, Oilers, and the Jets before them. That catalyst is the Golden Knights themselves.
They bring this side out of teams. Not because they are cocky or loud or try to rile the other team up (to be fair, they do indeed do some of this, but not any more than any other team) but instead because of the way they have chosen to play the game.
13 games into this postseason, we’ve learned a lot about the Vegas Golden Knights. Nothing has become more apparent though than the fact that this year’s team is never out of a game. Game 2 against the Stars was the fourth consecutive game in which the Golden Knights fell behind only to erase the deficit and go on to win the game.
Game 2 was also the seventh time in the last eight games Vegas has allowed the opening goal, and they’ve gone on to win five of them.
We’ve got a thick skin. It’s veteran guys that know one goal is not going to dictate the rest of the game. Usually your goaltender has to make some saves to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand and that’s certainly happened as well. -Bruce Cassidy
The Golden Knights have amassed eight come from behind wins this postseason, the most of any team. Florida is right behind with seven, but no other team has done it more than four times.
This isn’t new for Vegas either. In the 2020-21 season, when VGK also made it to the Conference Final, they posted seven comeback wins of their 10 total playoff victories. So, in the 20 playoff wins VGK have had in the past two postseasons they’ve participated in, 15 have seen them trail at some point.
The most comeback victories in a single playoff run in NHL history is 10 by last year’s Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.
We weren’t on top of our game in Game 2 but we were good enough to find a way to win. That’s been our team this year a little bit. I’ve used the word imperfect a lot because we are, but we find ways to stay in the game and win. That’s a credit to the guys and that’s what’s made us who we are this year. -Cassidy
The Golden Knights have clearly become comfortable in every type of game state. Of the 16 playoff teams, only Edmonton saw a smaller portion of their games with the score tied. VGK’s games have had an average of just 16:50 with the score even. Vegas has trailed for more than a full period per game, 20:26, and yet still have posted a 10-3 record so far.
(Our players) like to win and they know how to win when the game gets close and when it’s winning time. We don’t always look great doing it and I’ll be the first to admit that and we’re working on that every day but there’s an inner confidence in the group. I don’t consider us this cocky arrogant group. They are respectful of the game and the opposition, they just have an inner confidence in each other and that’s come out this year. -Cassidy
They now sit just two wins away from raising a Conference Champions banner for the second time in franchise history, and as they head to Dallas that inner confidence is only growing. Ahead, behind, or even in the rare times when the game is tied, this Golden Knights team always backs itself to come away with the win.
In Game 1, the game plan for the Golden Knights was simple, literally the age old hockey cliche.
Get it in deep.
From the very first shift of the game the Golden Knights consistently sent puck after puck after puck deep into the Dallas zone and then hounded their defensemen until they’d unwillingly give it back.
Vegas’ forecheck was buzzing from puck drop to the final shift a few minutes into overtime. It’s become the hallmark of the Golden Knights’ offensive system, and the head coach was not shy in making a declaration about it moving forward in the series.
That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do it Sunday, so you can put that in print or whatever it is these days. That’s our game and we’re not trying to hide from it. -Bruce Cassidy
Just as it won’t be news to the Stars on Sunday, Vegas’ forecheck didn’t surprise Dallas in Game 1. They knew it was coming, they knew how effective it can be, they just didn’t handle it well at all.
Part of it was execution on us and part of it was them coming at us hard early. You’ve got to give them credit, they were ready to play and they played well. -Pete DeBoer
The dominance of the forecheck was why the ice was tilted so heavily in Vegas’ favor most of the night. The Golden Knights generated 11 takeaways as they denied every exit route out of the Stars end. It looked like they came into the game knowing exactly what Dallas was going to do with the puck, and that’s because, they did.
In our first edition of the hockey greaseboard we illustrated some X’s and O’s you can expect to see in the Golden Knights’ upcoming Western Conference Final series with the Dallas Stars. We examine four different situations including Dallas’ swarm defense and how VGK can beat it, the difference between how the Stars defend puck carriers heading away from the net and how Edmonton did, VGK’s zone D against the 3-high offense, and and the soft spot in VGK’s zone where we can expect the Stars to operate from.