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Avalanche at Golden Knights — Game 4 Preview: Vegas looks to even series on home ice

The Vegas Golden Knights picked up their first win of the second-round series against the Colorado Avalanche with a 3-2 victory Friday night at T-Mobile Arena. Colorado now leads the series 2-1.

It was the first time the Golden Knights faced the test of being in a 2-0 hole, but the Knights — aided by the fans at T-Mobile Arena, which was at full capacity for the first time in over a year — came through with a third-period comeback win to help them climb back in the series.

It was a critical game, as only four teams have ever won a series after trailing 3-0.

Instead, the Knights are one win away from wiping the slate clean and making this a brand new best-of-three series.

Over the last five regulation periods of hockey, the Knights have been the better team by a considerable margin. They haven’t always gotten the results, but they have outperformed Colorado.

The numbers in Game 3 weren’t even close.

In fact, the Knights held a 77-41 edge in Corsi at 5-on-5 and had at least a 63 percent Corsi share in each period. The expected goals on the night were 3.76 to 1.09 at 5-on-5 and 4.07 to 1.44 at all strengths, giving the Knights a considerable advantage. Vegas generated more than twice as many actual shots on goal (43-20), including a 19-8 run in the third period.

That level of dominance may not be something Vegas can replicate against such a talented Avalanche team, though the Knights did have similar numbers in the second and third periods of Game 2. That being said, the Avalanche are sure to come up with a better response for tonight’s game.

The Avalanche will not go quietly and will look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead back to Colorado, where they’ll have a chance to do what Vegas failed to do in the first round and close out the series in five games.

The Avalanche have gone 20-0-1 on home ice going back to March 8; needless to say, Vegas will have its hands full for the rest of the series regardless of tonight’s outcome. However, it’s quite a tall task to defeat this talented Avalanche club in three straight games, two of which will be at Ball Arena.

What to watch for

  • The Knights preserved their playoff push on Friday; tonight is about giving themselves the best chance to actually overcome the odds and come out on top in this series. But while the Knights have been the better team, the Avalanche have gotten the better goaltending. Putting Game 1 aside, Philipp Grubauer has (for the most part) outperformed Marc-Andre Fleury, which is saying something. Both are Vezina finalists after stellar regular-season campaigns, but Grubauer has been a bigger factor in the series thus far. Through three games, Grubauer is 2-1 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .945 save percentage, having given up six goals on 109 shots faced. Fleury, who didn’t play in Game 1, is 1-1 with a 2.46 goals-against average and .889 save percentage and has given up five goals on 45 shots. Grubauer arguably has been the MVP of the series thus far and has outperformed Vegas’ goaltending in three out of three games. He let in two very questionable goals in the third period of Game 3, which led to the loss, but considering how badly the Avalanche were getting outplayed, the fact that it still came down to the wire is a testament to his performance. He has been more heavily tested and has been the better goalie. Fleury has been exceptional for the Golden Knights all season, and there’s no doubt he is the main reason this team is even in this fight. However, he has not been at his best in the last two games and has given up several soft, or at least uncharacteristic, goals. He hasn’t faced high shot volume, which makes it harder for a goalie to get into a rhythm, but that’s all the more reason why he needs to be sharper than ever in tonight’s game. The Knights stormed through the first three rounds of the playoffs back in 2018 due to Fleury’s play; they need that kind of goaltending in this matchup given the strength of the opponent. The Knights can’t win unless they score enough goals, which has nothing to do with Fleury, but there’s room for improvement in his game. He made a few key saves late in the game on Friday, but he looked awkward doing so. He was not the same confident, rock-solid goaltender the Knights have had for most of the year. Fleury is the kind of player who can steal a game, and that’s the level of performance the Knights are going to need from him tonight and throughout the series.
  • The Golden Knights cannot allow the Avalanche to steal back the momentum with quick-response goals. The Golden Knights outplayed Colorado in just about every category in Game 3, but the Knights still appeared headed for a loss until Jonathan Marchessault and Max Pacioretty came through just in time. But even after being the superior team all night, it wasn’t until that span of 45 seconds late in the third period that Vegas took control of the game. Even then, the Avalanche had several very strong scoring chances and came close to evening things up on several occasions, as they’ve managed to do throughout the postseason. Colorado has the speed and the talent up and down its lineup to change things in an instant. There’s a reason that prior to Pacioretty’s third-period goal in Game 3, the Avalanche only trailed for roughly nine minutes in the entire postseason. Colorado has been able to answer quickly, which, along with Grubauer’s play, is what allows them to remain in every game until the end. Leads aren’t safe in general, but when you have a team with this much talent, the Knights must be relentless for 60 minutes, regardless of the score.
  • The Golden Knights have to stay out of the penalty box. Ryan Reaves has served his two-game suspension for his dirty shift in Game 1 and is eligible to play tonight. The Knights have played their best hockey with him in the press box, but Pete DeBoer is a Reaves supporter, so he’ll likely be back in the lineup for tonight’s game. Putting aside the merit of that decision, Reaves will have to maintain his composure. It took the Avalanche just eight seconds to convert on a power play in Game 3. The Knights gave Colorado four power plays in the first period of Game 2, and it was a penalty that cost them the game in the end. The Avalanche are stacked; the Knights can’t afford to give their star players extra time and space for two minutes at a time. Discipline has to be a focus for the Knights tonight. They got away with what should have been a major penalty in Game 2, and while Ryan Graves’ high hit on Mattias Janmark could have been a major, that doesn’t excuse the fact that the Knights have committed multiple majors through just three games of a series. Reaves was fortunate not to get one in Game 7 against Minnesota; his destructive behavior does not help the Knights in a battle of skill, but the entire team needs to skip the retaliation plays and exhibit great discipline. The Knights need offense, not shenanigans. The Knights have been penalized eight times in the last two games, and the Avalanche have gone 3-for-8 in that span. The penalty kill, which was the league’s best during the regular season, must be better. Much better. But the best way to kill penalties is not to take them./

How to watch

Time: 5:30 p.m.


Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM