Four teams in the history of the NHL have overcome a 3-0 series deficit to win; two of those teams accomplished the feat in the last 10 years. Philadelphia was the first to do it in 35 years back in 2010 against Boston, ultimately overcoming a 3-0 series deficit as well as a 3-0 deficit in Game 7. Los Angeles also won four straight in 2014 against the San Jose Sharks.
The Golden Knights secured a commanding 3-0 series lead with last night’s 2-1 win in Game 3. The quick turnaround gives Chicago less than 24 hours to prepare and ready for a fight of desperation. Completing the series sweep will be easier said than done for Vegas, especially since this series has been much tighter than the results would indicate.
Vegas won both Game 2 and Game 3 by one goal only, and the Blackhawks hit the post at crucial moments in both contests. A few inches here and a few bounces there, and this could be a very different series.
But the Knights have found ways to win and must do so once again tonight. Giving a team a longer leash is dangerous; doing so against a team as talented and experienced as Chicago is downright foolish.
Here are three keys to the game for Vegas in tonight’s elimination game.
Vegas has the luxury of having two starting goaltenders, which alleviates some of the inconvenience of a back-to-back. That likely means it will be a fresh and rested Robin Lehner in the crease tonight. There’s a chance Pete DeBoer will go back to Marc-Andre Fleury after his stellar effort last night, though at this point in the series, it’s not about rewarding one goalie for a strong game, it’s about asset management. There’s no reason to force Fleury into a back-to-back when Lehner remains undefeated as a Golden Knight.
DeBoer has been stubbornly insistent when it comes to how he plans to handle the goalie rotation in the playoffs; it’s a day-by-day evaluation, so there’s no use debating the matter (even if his stance sounds more political than strategic). Having said that, the Knights don’t need to add an extra variable to the mix, so starting Fleury doesn’t seem like the logical choice, even if he was outstanding last night.
On the other side of the matchup, the Blackhawks can’t exactly afford to roll Malcolm Subban in an elimination game, though that story would have written itself, regardless of the outcome.
Instead, it likely will be Corey Crawford once again. Crawford had his best game of the series last night, stopping 24 of 26 shots for a save percentage of .923. But starting two games in a row is never an ideal scenario for a goaltender, especially with the season on the line.
As such, the Knights need to test him early and often.
The Knights have done a great job frustrating the Blackhawks offensively. Even though Chicago has gotten better and better every game, the results just haven’t come through. Chicago is running out of time, but there’s a lot of hockey left to be played.
The last time Lehner got the start, he gave up several backdoor goals. It could go a long way for the Knights to help clear the crease and make sure no one is left unaccounted for.
Weather the storm
The Golden Knights have been very successful in the first period so far this series, outscoring Chicago 5-1 in the first three games. But today will be the toughest test yet.
For Chicago, this is it. It’s win or go home, nothing to lose, all or nothing, season on the line.
That means the Blackhawks are going to be hungry, they’re going to come out fighting and they’re not going to go quietly.
Nothing so far this series has suggested that the Knights will give up four goals in the first period (or any period, for that matter). The scoresheet doesn’t hint at the Blackhawks exploding for five goals in quick succession, nor do any signs point towards the possibility that Vegas will crumble. The Knights’ system is too strong for that, and it has been able to stifle a Blackhawks team that seemingly scored at will in the qualifying round.
However, Chicago certainly has had its chances; the Knights have defended them well, the goaltending has been strong (especially in Game 3) and the hockey gods haven’t exactly given Chicago a break.
You can’t anticipate or prepare for a fortuitous bounce. But hockey is a game of momentum, and the Knights need to make sure not to let Chicago run away with it early.
Kill the discipline
The Knights are very fortunate that the lack of discipline they displayed last night didn’t cost them the game.
Vegas took four penalties, three of which came in the first period, after taking four total in the first two games of the series. Chicago was unable to capitalize, but that wasn’t for lack of opportunity.
The Knights are playing with fire if they allow that to continue today.
Chicago has gone 1-for-8 on the man advantage in three games, but sooner or later the odds are going to catch up, especially since Vegas ranked 27th on the penalty kill in the regular season.
The Knights can’t give away any freebies. A lack of discipline shows a lack of focus, and that’s something the Knights cannot afford to demonstrate when Chicago has its back against the wall.
Max Pacioretty — Chandler Stephenson — Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault — William Karlsson — Reilly Smith
Alex Tuch — Nicolas Roy — Nick Cousins
William Carrier — Patrick Brown — Ryan Reaves
Brayden McNabb — Nate Schmidt
Alec Martinez — Shea Theodore
Zach Whitecloud — Nick Holden
Brandon Saad — Jonathan Toews — Dominik Kubalik
Alex DeBrincat — Dylan Strome — Kane
Drake Caggiula — Kirby Dach — Alex Nylander
Matthew Highmore — David Kampf — Ryan Carpenter
Duncan Keith — Adam Boqvist
Calvin de Haan — Connor Murphy
Olli Maatta — Slater Koekkoek
How to watch
Time: 3:30 p.m. PT
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM