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VGK Have Been Through Enough To Curb Any Doubt Of Dealing With Series Deficit

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If there’s one thing the 2021 Golden Knights are used to it’s rapid change. Whether it be pandemic-related or hockey-related, this team has been through some crazy ups and downs 34 days into this playoff run.

For the first time this postseason Vegas is experiencing a blown series lead. They’ve turned around two series deficits to take leads in a series and they’ve seen a 3-1 lead turn into a Game 7, but never before in 2021 have they been ahead in the series only to go behind in the same one.

But to think the Golden Knights will do anything but handle this with composure would be ludicrous based on the postseason they’ve been through so far.

16 games into this playoff run, the Golden Knights have experienced 16 leads and 15 deficits. They’ve seen the lead change inside of a game on eight different occasions, including six times they were behind in a game and took the lead. They’ve scored eight game tying goals while also allowing eight of their own. And maybe the most important stat of all to prove this team will not panic down a game in a series is that the Golden Knights have been behind in an unbelievable 13 of the 16 playoff games.

I don’t think there’s any emotional damage (chuckling). I think that’s a pretty harsh way of putting it. We were down 0-2 to Colorado and got smoked 7-1 in the first game and brutally dominated for 20 minutes and then really deserved to win the game and lose that one. -Mark Stone

They haven’t been exactly here before, down 2-1 after losing a Game 3, but it feels like they have been. In truth, it feels like they’ve been in every situation imaginable to this point and it hasn’t all worked out perfectly, but they are still here.

Vegas have scored 16 go-ahead goals in the postseason. Add that to their eight game-tying goals and that’s 24 different times in which there have been massive emotional positive swing goals. On the other side, they’ve allowed the go-ahead goal  15 times and allowed the tying goal another eight. So, in total, there have been 47 different times inside of 16 games in which the score has shifted from a leader to tied or vise versa.

To this point, the Golden Knights have always had an answer.

Jonathan Marchessault’s game-tying goal in Game 2 against Minnesota. Alex Tuch’s go-ahead one in the same game. The three goal comeback in Game 3. Game 7’s unlikely heroes. Marchessault and Pacioretty in Game 3 against Colorado. Stone in overtime of Game 5. And the list goes on and on and on.

Big goals and big wins are anything but foreign to the Golden Knights in these playoffs.

Now it’s time for someone, or everyone, to step forward once again and pick up the goalie that is a huge reason why they are here in the first place.

Any time a team trails in a series facing a road game next there’s reason for some doubt to seep in. But with the Golden Knights, doubt should be the last thing on the mind for this bunch that has literally been there and done that.

Vegas’ Unheralded Unit Comes Through Again

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s fair to say the Golden Knights’ defensive unit have outperformed their opponents all postseason. Vegas’ defense have allowed the second least goals per game, and consistently cause star snipers to shake their heads and shrug their shoulders on the bench. However, last night was evidence of how the Golden Knights’ blue line can change the outcome differently when they’re pitching in offensively.

They got some solid d-men over there. They were finding lanes, getting pucks through and jumping in to the rush. That’s what good D does. I’ll have to find a way to mitigate that. -Carey Price, MTL goaltender

In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals, three Golden Knights defensemen scored and five registered a point. Vegas’ blue line produced more points than Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Alex Tuch, and Mattias Janmark combined. Yet it didn’t matter for Vegas.

Not only were the Golden Knights’ defensive core one of the highest-scoring in the regular season but they’ve nearly matched it in the playoffs. In the regular season, Vegas’ blueline combined for 142 points, adding 0.39 of offense per game. In the postseason it’s been equally as impressive.

VGK’s Offense From Defensemen

Regular Season: 142 Points (36 Goals, 139 Assists), 0.39 Points Per Game
Postseason: 37 Points (9 Goals, 28 Assists), 0.38 Points Per Game

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Blueprint To The Golden Knights Beating The Montreal Canadiens

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Eight wins down, eight to go. The next four need to come against a feisty team from north of the border that are on an impressive seven-game winning streak while not trailing at any point in any game.

But the Golden Knights enter the series as the better team both on paper as well as in results thus far this season.

I laid out the blueprint to beat the Wild and the Golden Knights followed it. Then I did the same for the Avalanche, and VGK did even more than was expected. Now, it’s time for the blueprint to beat the Canadiens, once again broken down into four segments with the most important up first.

Beat Montreal’s skaters to score on Carey Price

As I wrote about Saturday, scoring on Carey Price is never easy. However, scoring on the Canadiens is far from impossible. As good as Price can be, and he’s more than capable of making Thatcher Demko and Anton Khudobin’s performances look average, the Golden Knights can make him a non-factor if they generate the right type of looks.

What I mean by that is Vegas need to work incredibly hard every single time they get the puck in the offensive zone to obstruct Price’s vision of the puck. Then, they’ll be able to shoot pucks through traffic as well as tip pucks and create chances even the best goalie in the world cannot stop.

In addition, Vegas have to be clinical with their offensive opportunities. They can’t be relying on bank shots off the goalie’s back or goals where the goaltender is literally looking in the stands for the puck. Instead, they’ll have to execute at a high level when they create their most dangerous chances. Breakaways need to be finished. Odd-man rushes need to result in shots on net, and one-timers must be blasted on net rather than fired wide or scuffed off the stick.

The Golden Knights are good enough to create chances Price, or any goalie, can’t stop. They need to keep doing it.

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Carp: Underdogs No More

**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.**

What on earth is Peter DeBoer going to do?

He will not be able to play the “Us Against The World Underdog Card” as his Golden Knights are a prohibitive 5-to-1 favorite to win their Stanley Cup semifinal series against Montreal, which begins Monday night at the Fortress. I’m guessing he makes a 180-degree turn and tells anyone who’ll listen just how dangerous the Canadiens are, how the Golden Knights are going to have to raise their game another notch or two, how they’re only halfway to their ultimate objective and yada, yada, yada.

Please. Spare me.

DeBoer happens to be coaching a really, really good hockey team, one that’s been built for this very moment. The $8.8 million defenseman is earning his pay (finally!). The future Hall of Fame goaltender is on top of his game. All four lines are scoring. The defensemen are blocking shots, contributing offensively, and doing their jobs.

So let Dominique Ducharme do the talking and embrace the underdog role. He has earned it. PDB just needs to coach his team and get to the Cup Final and be ready to match wits with one of two excellent coaches — either the Lightning’s Jon Cooper or the Islanders’ Barry Trotz, the latter who knows how to beat the Knights when the big money is on the line.

There. I’ve vented.

Now, on to the semis and how the Knights will get this done.

If you thought the Colorado series would come down to goaltending (it ultimately did), the Habs-Knights matchup is all about the goalies. Carey Price has rediscovered his game and he is capable of singlehandedly winning this series. But Marc-Andre Fleury has been every bit as good, perhaps better. He will be highly motivated to beat the team he grew up rooting for as a kid.

Fleury hinted his legs were feeling it after the Knights eliminated the Avalanche Thursday. Game 1 isn’t until Monday. He’ll have enough time to rest, recover and prepare. I just don’t see Robin Lehner in the Vegas net unless Fleury is hurt.

Speaking of injuries, are you paying attention to the roster? The Knights are nearly at full strength. Peyton Krebs, who suffered a broken jaw late in the regular season, began skating last week and he might be available during this series if needed. Tomas Nosek’s availability is a bit more sketchy but GM Kelly McCrimmon said Friday Nosek is making good progress and may be ready to come back soon.

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How The Golden Knights Can Score On Carey Price And The Montreal Canadiens

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights enter Round 3 of the playoffs as a sizeable favorite. That’s because they seem to have the advantage on paper at pretty much every position on the rosters. However, even as good as Marc-Andre Fleury has been, beating Carey Price is always going to be tricky.

That certainly doesn’t mean it can’t be done though. In 11 playoff games this season, he’s allowed 22 goals on 337 shots. That’s good for an impressive .935 save percentage to go along with his 1.97 goals against average. Excellent numbers, but 22 goals nonetheless.

I went back and studied all 22 goals that got past Price to see if I could spot any common threads. Not just in beating Price himself, but also in places where the Golden Knights can exploit Montreal’s defense.

Of the 22 allowed, I qualified just six as stoppable shots by Price. It’s important to note that I’m being fairly lenient in favor of Price, marking any shot that was tipped, deflected, through traffic, or into an open net based on a rebound or cross-ice pass as “unstoppable.” This doesn’t mean a goalie like Price can’t stop them, or that he won’t moving forward, it instead means that they are goals created that scored on the defense as opposed to beating the goalie. These are goals that a goalie is not expected to stop, and the unstoppable shots accounted for 73% of the goals scored against Price in the series.

Let’s start with the six that he did have a chance to stop. Three of them are pucks that are picked up by players standing in the circles. Two are from passes from the high-slot to a defenseman walking in (the same defenseman both times in the same game actually), and the other is a pass from under the goal. On all three, the player released a hard wrist shot that beats Price. All three scored are shot short side on Price and all three he looks up to the sky like he can’t believe he missed them. I’d be hard-pressed to say we can expect one of those in this series, but three in 11 games makes me think it’s possible. Looking at Max Pacioretty, Alex Tuch, Alex Pietrangelo, or Shea Theodore as the most likely options to do it.

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Film Breakdown: Exiting The Zone With Center Support

No matter who you play in the postseason, breaking out of the defensive zone well is a prerequisite to winning a playoff series. The Golden Knights have been better at it than Colorado through the first four games of this Second Round.

In today’s film breakdown, we show how and why Vegas have succeeded while illustrating an example of the Avalance’s failure.

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No Matter Colorado’s Response, Vegas Must Stick To What’s Worked

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Prior to Game 3, the Colorado Avalanche hadn’t lost a game since May 5th. They still haven’t lost a home game since the Golden Knights beat them on March 27th, and they haven’t lost a game in regulation at Ball Arena since March 8th. But, they’re the ones that are under all the pressure as they head home for Game 5 of a tied series.

The Avs put all their chips on the table in Game 4 and the Golden Knights were holding pocket aces (or trips, or whatever the poker analogy for a hat trick and a 5-1 win is). Colorado’s head coach called out his best players, they had a team meeting in which they made some “tactical adjustments,” and they basically decided the buck stops here in Game 4.

But, it didn’t.

Instead, the Golden Knights throttled them, again, the exact same way they did in Game 2 and the same way they did in Game 3.

Vegas took care of the puck all over the ice, were committed to getting it in deep and winning forecheck battles, and they took their chances when they came. Colorado did the opposite. They refused to dump the puck in, instead, tried to skate through the Golden Knights’ perfectly structured neutral zone defense. They struggled to get out of their own end because they didn’t have the pressure release options needed to deal with VGK’s forecheck when it’s on. And they weren’t able to capitalize on a couple of chances that could have changed the course of the game.

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Carp: Golden Knights Still Have Work To Do

**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.

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Film Breakdown: Early Gaps Crucial For Golden Knights vs. Colorado

The Golden Knights turned things around from Game 1 to Game 2 defensively. One of the main reasons for the difference was the way they were attacking the Avs speed through the neutral zone.

In today’s film breakdown, we look at the importance of gap control, and especially early gaps, against the Colorado Avalanche.

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Finding The Good In A Sea Of Bad From Game 1

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last night during my postgame Periscope a question popped into the comments that asked for a positive takeaway from Game 1. In the moment, I really didn’t have an answer. In a 7-1 drubbing that was marred by an entire period of “loser hockey,” nothing jumped off the page as positive from the Golden Knights. But, I went back over some of the numbers, re-watched the 1st period, and listened to Pete DeBoer’s morning press conference, and I’m now ready and able to give a much better answer.

First off, the start of the game was really good for the Golden Knights. Their exits were on point, they were challenging the Avalanche at the blue line, and they made life difficult on MacKinnon and Co. for the first few shifts. Puck management is priority #1 for the Golden Knights in this series and for the first stretch of the game they handled themselves very well.

When you watch the video, the first 10 minutes of that game we were actually okay. I think we had the first two or three scoring chances, we had the first power play, we had a couple opportunities on rushes to create something. -Pete DeBoer

Here are a couple of examples. First, one on a challenged entry that leads to a great exit.

Watch how the Golden Knights dictate the side of the ice the puck carrier must skate into. Then, they quickly get back to the puck, move it around the boards, then up to Max Pacioretty, and Mark Stone’s positioning is perfect for the exit. This is how the Golden Knights play when they are at their best, and just one minute into the game, they were.

Here’s another one.

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