Golden Knights prepare for pushback effort from Stars as series shifts to Dallas
The Vegas Golden Knights will look for their fifth straight win when they take on the Dallas Stars in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final tonight at American Airlines Center.
The Golden Knights hold a 2-0 series lead after a 3-2 overtime win on Sunday; it was the second straight overtime win for Vegas after securing a 4-3 win in extra time in Game 1.
The two games could not have been more different, however.
The Golden Knights were completely dominant throughout Game 1 but gave up a goal in the final two minutes that forced overtime. In Game 2, the Stars were the better team for 50 minutes. Vegas grinded away in the third period and ultimately netted the equalizer with 2:22 before stealing it in overtime.
Adin Hill had an underrated performance in that come-from-behind effort – the Golden Knights' eighth such victory of the postseason – and is a huge reason why the Golden Knights now lead 2-0.
He stopped 26 of 28 shots and has stopped 59 of 64 in the series, giving him an overall save percentage of .922. He is 5-1 since taking over for the injured Laurent Brossoit and has a goals-against average of 2.28 and a .930 save percentage.
He has been fantastic, and the Golden Knights need more of the same tonight in Dallas.
This series is far from over.
"It's still one game at a time. Our goal is to get 11 wins now in the playoffs and we're at 10, so let's focus on that going into Dallas," Bruce Cassidy said. "[The Stars are] gonna have a real sense of urgency going back there. So for us, it's one game at a time and get to our game in a hurry."
Finding their game "in a hurry" will be key for the Golden Knights, who were flat in Game 2 despite coming away victorious.
"We've won nothing," Cassidy said. "We've got a 2-0 lead but ... we're halfway there. That's it. We have to be a lot better because you need to get better throughout the series or you don't advance. We weren't on top of our game in Game 2 but we were good enough to find a way to win, and that's been our team this year. ... We find ways to stay in the game and win."
That will be easier said than done on the road against a Stars team that is 5-2 at home during the playoffs.
Despite forcing overtime on Jamie Benn's late goal in Game 1, the Stars were outplayed for the majority of the night. But Pete DeBoer made adjustments, and the Stars' stifling defensive system was back in full effect in Game 2. In fact, Dallas held the Golden Knights to just 10 shots through 40 minutes.
The Stars also controlled the neutral zone for most of the game, which was in stark contrast to Game 1.
"They were still in their 1-2-2 [formation] for the most part," Cassidy said. "But at the end of the day they just have numbers there, and if you have numbers and you're taking good angles and have good sticks then you have to be pretty clean getting through there, and we weren't."
The Golden Knights need to address that tonight in Game 3.
In Game 1, Vegas was flying through the neutral zone quickly and easily, constantly on the attack. But for a stellar showing by Jake Oettinger, that game could have been a blowout.
A strong forecheck will be key, as it forces the opposition to retrieve the puck, get a clean breakout and go 200 feet. The Golden Knights struggled to do this for most of the game on Sunday.
Cassidy said he wasn't sure if Dallas' game changed or if "maybe our lack of execution fed into their game."
Either way, the Golden Knights need to clean it up.
They've been a strong road team all season. In fact, Vegas had the third best record in the regular season away from home at 26-7-8. In the postseason, Vegas is 4-1, with the only exception being Game 4 against the Oilers. The Golden Knights have averaged 4.00 goals per game and have surrendered an average of 2.60 (at home, they've scored 3.50 and have given up 3.13).
Further, Vegas' penalty kill has been much better on the road, operating at 75 percent compared to 54.2 percent.
It has been very strong throughout this series. Though the Stars converted in Game 2, the puck hit Brayden McNabb and fell right to Jason Robertson. Vegas had a chance to get it out of the zone before that, but it was still a fluky goal. Both teams have benefited from fortunate bounces throughout this series, which has been tighter than even the one-goal scores suggest.
Like the first two games of this series, tonight's contest should be another close one, as the Stars are the second-best team on home ice and have averaged 4.00 goals per game while yielding an average of 2.29.
"We've played well on the road all year," Cassidy said. "I think it's because we use everybody; we're four lines, six [defensemen]. We're not chasing matchups, we're not worried about hiding anybody, so we just play."
Even so, DeBoer will look to avoid the William Karlsson matchup against his top line. The Stars' top line of Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski has been excellent all season; Vegas limited it to two goals through two games thanks in large part to hard-matching the top pairing of Alex Pietrangelo and Alec Martinez along with the Karlsson line against it.
With the Stars looking to avoid that matchup, all four Vegas lines and all three pairings will have to be diligent defensively.
The best defense is a good offense.
The Golden Knights need to get pucks up the ice and play north-south; they need to get pucks behind the Stars, win board battles and look to create turnovers like the Ryan Suter mistake that led to Jonathan Marchessault's equalizer late in the third. They need to make plays from behind the goal line; those don't have to be as stellar as Jack Eichel's pass to Marchessault, but plays from behind the goal line are more difficult for goalies to track, which will help combat Oettinger's strong play.
Discipline has been an issue for the Golden Knights; it hasn't been a major issue, for the Golden Knights have only taken five penalties through two games. That being said, they've been undisciplined and unnecessary ones, and Marchessault's in the second period of Game 2 led to Dallas' first power-play goal of the series. Chandler Stephenson also took two undisciplined penalties in Game 2. Though both made up for it with massively clutch goals, it's something the Golden Knights need to avoid.
Instead, they need to maintain their composure; retaliation penalties can't happen, especially in front of a rowdy crowd fighting to help their team get back into the series.
Dallas will do whatever it can to avoid falling in a 3-0 hole.
"[Dallas] wants to win," Ivan Barbashev said. "They will have to give you the best game that they can. I think it's gonna be up to us to push back and find the game the way we want to play as early as possible."
Mark Stone had a similar message.
"Obviously, we got a huge save from Adin early in overtime," Mark Stone said. "We just found a way to stick with the program, and we gotta do the same thing in Dallas. We know their crowd's gonna be amped up; they're gonna try to push the pace early, but we gotta match that."
The Golden Knights have been through this before.
The Winnipeg "whiteout" is one of the more intimidating environments for playoff hockey, and the Oilers fans were fully engaged as their team got off to strong starts in every game.
"You just gotta play through it," Cassidy said.
The Golden Knights came out strong in the opening minutes of Game 2 but fell flat after Miro Heiskanen's tally 2:47 into the game.
That "flat" spell lasted most of the night.
"They were checking well; we didn't execute well enough early on, and I think there was a little level of frustration in the second period," Cassidy said. "But then you're never out of the game when it's only one goal. So we were doing enough to stay in the game but we weren't at our game."
The best way to avoid a repeat of Game 2 is to match Dallas' intensity from the start.
That means being relentless on the forecheck.
But Vegas has to be smart.
It will be important to be patient. Perhaps not as patient as Vegas was in Game 2, however. They had several grade-A chances, but the Golden Knights need to get more pucks to the net and test Oettinger early and often. Ten shots through 40 minutes and 13 shots through 50 is not going to cut it on the road in the Western Conference Final. Though Oettinger made several fantastic stops, the Golden Knights have to find a way to get more pucks through.
With Dallas employing such a sound, structural defensive game, the Golden Knights will have to wait for their moments. They were able to capitalize on three key Dallas mistakes to win Game 2.
The first was Thomas Harley tripping Eichel on a delayed penalty in the first period, which set up a 5-on-3 for the Golden Knights.
The second was Suter's soft turnover behind the net that resulted in Marchessault's goal.
The third was a sloppy line change in overtime that gave Vegas numbers on Stephenson's game-winner.
The Golden Knights were able to take advantage of the few errors the Stars committed. For the most part, Dallas played a very strong game, and that's likely to be true tonight in a must-win for the home team.
Vegas has to be patient without straying from its game.
One person who made sure the Golden Knights found their game in the third period was Eichel, who willed Vegas' comeback. He worked hard all night but really took charge in the third.
"I thought Jack all night was trying to be a difference-maker," Cassidy said. "He did not get frustrated. He wanted the puck, he wanted to be on the ice, so we tried to get him involved a little more in the third period. ... He had a good mindset all night. Like I said, he wanted to make a difference. He had his legs, and eventually [that line] got rewarded."
Notwithstanding Eichel's gutsy play in the third, another clutch goal from Marchessault and a massive save by Hill right before Stephenson called game, the Golden Knights were fortunate to win Game 2. In the end, they did enough to earn it, but if not for Hill, the game would not have been within reach in the third.
The Golden Knights can't take themselves out of the running in Game 3.
Several of their most complete games of the postseason have come on the road, and they will need a similar effort tonight from everyone in the lineup.
"No passengers; we need everyone," Cassidy said. "We don't rely on two or three players or the goaltender to stand on his head. We need a timely save; we certainly got that in [Game 2 in overtime]. Timely goals; Marchessault gets a big one for us, gives us a chance. So there's certainly guys that we need to be drivers. ... There's different people that can contribute for us every night, and it's why we're having success. But again, there's guys we rely on. 'Leaders lead, followers follow' type of thing. We still need those leaders to push us in the right direction."
The Golden Knights will try to come away with at least one of the next two games on the road. Vegas is 10-3 all-time in Game 3 matchups.
Ivan Barbashev – Jack Eichel – Jonathan Marchessault
Reilly Smith – William Karlsson – Nicolas Roy
Brett Howden – Chandler Stephenson* – Mark Stone
William Carrier – Teddy Blueger – Keegan Kolesar
Alec Martinez – Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb – Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague – Zach Whitecloud
*Held out of morning skate for being "under the weather."
Jason Robertson – Roope Hintz – Joe Pavelski
Mason Marchment – Max Domi – Tyler Seguin
Jamie Benn – Wyatt Johnston – Evgenii Dadonov
Joel Kiviranta – Radek Faksa – Luke Glendening
Ryan Suter – Miro Heiskanen
Esa Lindell – Colin Miller
Thomas Harley – Joel Hanley
How to watch
Game 3: Golden Knights at Stars
When: 5 p.m. PT
Where: American Airlines Center – Dallas, TX
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM