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What to watch for in a critical Game 5 as the series shifts back to Vegas

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With the Golden Knights and Sharks tied at 2-2, this second-round matchup is now a best-of-three series.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-San Jose Sharks at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Sharks picked up a dominant 4-0 win in San Jose in Game 4 to even up the series at two games apiece. Twice, the Knights have taken a one-game lead in the series and the Sharks have bounced back with a win of their own. Now two or three games remain, but all that matters is tonight. The Sharks and Knights are back in Vegas for a critical Game 5 matchup.

Here’s what to watch for.

Short-term memory

The Golden Knights need to put Game 4 behind them. It’s done, it happened, move on. The Sharks did the same thing after Game 1, though that was an even more lopsided affair. That being said, the Knights need to regroup and reset, and there’s no better place to do that than on home ice.

What happens in Vegas...

The effort the Golden Knights exhibited all season long not only got them into the playoffs but also secured home-ice advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Now that the series is a best-of-three situation, home-ice advantage is fully back in Vegas’ corner, and the Knights need to take advantage of it. There’s a reason the Golden Knights went 29-10-2 in Vegas this season, and it’s the same reason they’ve found success to the tune of a 3-1 record on home ice in the playoffs so far. The atmosphere in T-Mobile Arena in front of the Golden Knights fans is electric, and it’s something the team has thrived on all year. It needs to be a factor tonight.

Solve Martin Jones

Martin Jones made many spectacular saves in Game 4, stopping 34 of 34 shots and completely shutting down Vegas’ offense. Though the Knights matched the Sharks’ shot total with 34 shots of their own, most were taken from the perimeter, which isn’t going to cut it.

Game 4

Of course, the Knights have relied on speed and skill all year, but sometimes simplifying the game plan a little can end up going a long way. Vegas shouldn’t change its approach, nor should it stray further from what has worked since October. However, there’s nothing wrong with going to the net, screening the goalie, throwing pucks on net and trying to get deflections, pounce on juicy rebounds or even slam home a (dare I say it) greasy goal. Not every play has to be worthy of a top-10 countdown show.

Plus, the Knights need to improve their high-danger scoring chances. The Sharks outchanced Vegas in high-danger opportunities in Game 4 11-5. All four games of the series have been won by the team that edges out the other in this category. While that’s not necessarily an insightful pattern considering players are clearly more likely to score in high-danger opportunities, it still shows that Vegas cannot continue to settle for point shots but must instead force the play to the net and into the slot.

Put the “special” back in special teams

Special teams are often the difference between winning and losing, and the stakes are magnified in the second season. In the last three games, the Sharks have gone 4-for-16 on the power play, operating at a 25 percent success rate. However, they didn’t score a 5-on-5 goal until Game 3. It has become a bit of a broken record at this point, but it can’t be overstated how significant it is for the Knights to continue to try to stay out of the box. The Sharks have had 21 official power plays in the series, and that lack of discipline needs to stop. Our very own Shepard Price said it best during Game 2:

Suffice it to say that the Knights would be doing themselves a solid by not taking unnecessary penalties. Momentum is king in the playoffs, and the Sharks don’t need to be given any advantages.

But the Knights also need to improve their efficiency on the power play. Vegas’ overall power-play rate is 21.7 percent, good for fourth best among active teams. However, when you take away their three power-play strikes from Game 1, the Knights have gone just 2-for-13 (15.4 percent) since. Also, Vegas has just a 17.1 percent conversion rate in the entire postseason, which ranks last among active teams.

Something’s gotta give.

Follow the Flower

Fleury has been here before. Not only does he have three Stanley Cup rings, but he has faced it all throughout his career. He may not have been perfect in Game 4, but he knows how important it is to move on. The rest of his teammates, even those with extensive playoff experience, need to follow his lead. Fleury is the backbone and heart of this team, but he can’t always do it alone. He will need to be better tonight, but the same is true of his teammates. That’s why everyone up and down the lineup, whether they get 30 minutes of ice time or five minutes of ice time, needs to commit to playing Golden Knights hockey; it’s time to step up.

Lineup changes

However, it appears as though there could be some new faces in the lineup receiving those minutes.

If that is true, Luca Sbisa and Oscar Lindberg could be making their Golden Knights playoff debuts, with Ryan Carpenter returning to the lineup after serving as a healthy scratch for the last two games. Though these changes have yet to be officially confirmed, it would make sense for Gerard Gallant to shake up the lineup after the Knights played arguably their worst game of the postseason in Game 4. It’s unclear who would come out of the lineup to accommodate these changes, though Jon Merrill would be a sensible option given his ice time in recent games.

The Sharks may make some adjustments to their lineup as well, especially with Jumbo Joe Thornton nearing a return. His status for tonight’s tilt is still up in the air (he’s listed as a game-time decision), but he would be a huge boost for the Sharks. Thornton likely would slot in on the top line to play with Joe Pavelski and Evander Kane, which would significantly bolster San Jose’s top-six.


How to Watch

Time: 7 p.m. PT

TV: NBC Sports Network

Radio: Fox Sports Radio 98.9 FM/1340 AM