What to watch for as the Golden Knights and Sharks battle in Game 4

There’s a huge difference between 3-1 and 2-2, which makes tonight’s contest a pivotal moment in this series.

The Golden Knights are coming off an epic 4-3 overtime win in which William Karlsson brought the heroics to give Vegas a 2-1 series lead in this best-of-seven second-round matchup against the Sharks. The Game 3 victory also helped Vegas temporarily regain home-ice advantage, which makes tonight’s tilt critical for both teams.

Here’s what to watch for in Game 4.

That “D” word

“A” is for apple, “B” is for ball, “C” is for cat and “D” is for D-I-S-C-I-P-L-I-N-E.

If there’s one thing the Knights need to focus on, it’s staying out of the box.

San Jose scored its first 5-on-5 goals of the series Monday night, though Evander Kane found twine just four seconds after Jon Merrill’s cross-checking minor had expired.

The Sharks have seven goals in this series. Three of them have come on the power play (1, 2, 3), two were scored in Game 2 during 4-on-4 play (1, 2) and Tomas Hertl tied the game with 1:57 left in the third period of Game 3 to cap off a relentless shift by San Jose. The seventh goal was Kane’s, which essentially came on the man advantage since Merrill had not yet re-joined the play. Therefore, it’s fair to say that the Knights have given up just one true 5-on-5 goal in the series, which makes it clear as day that ending up in the penalty box in any fashion (whether it’s a penalty that results in a Sharks power play or matching minors that result in 4-on-4 action) is undoubtedly detrimental to Vegas’ chances of winning.

Vegas must maintain discipline, especially since Marc-Andre Fleury may be superhuman but is still somewhat mortal (well, maybe).

All hail the flower

Speaking of Fleury...

What can really be said about the 33-year-old’s performance this postseason? He still leads all goalies who have played in at least five games this postseason with a .960 save percentage, 1.23 goals-against average and just 10 goals against.

He certainly put on a show in Game 3, making highlight-reel save after save and sending the Flower Power meter off the charts. There is no way Vegas would have had even a chance of winning that game if not for Fleury’s magnificent work, especially early on. It was ALL Sharks in the opening frame, and aside from a five-minute stretch in the second period in which Vegas scored three goals (two on the power play) on eight shots, San Jose was pretty dominant through 40 minutes.

While Fleury was sensational in the first-round series against Los Angeles, he has reached a new level against San Jose even if his stat line isn’t as impeccable. But it’s the Knights’ play over the last few games that has required Fleury to step up in a big way, which is something Gerard Gallant and the team should address ahead of tonight’s contest.

Zero to sixty

Aside from discipline, it could be argued that the second most important key to the game for Vegas is to put forth a full 60-minute effort.

It’s understandable that San Jose came out firing on all cylinders in Game 2 after losing 7-0 in Game 1, and it’s no surprise the Sharks were able to feed off the energy in SAP Center early in Monday’s game. That being said, Vegas has gotten off to very slow starts in back-to-back games, and they’re playing with fire if they think that trend can continue.

The past two games have proven that momentum swings in the playoffs are mighty, and that a 60-minute effort is the best way to put your team in a position to be successful. Even though Vegas came close to winning Game 2, the Knights really had no business being in that position considering how they played throughout the game. The same is somewhat true of Game 3. Vegas Fleury was able to weather the storm early to keep the Knights in the game, and Vegas capitalized on some power plays and made the most of a five-minute stretch in the second. Ironically, they were solid in the third period but blew a two-goal lead (for the second game in a row), getting outscored 2-0 in the frame.

The momentum was on San Jose’s side after the Sharks killed off back-to-back penalties in overtime. But the postseason is a time when clutch players step up in key moments, and that’s what happened in Game 3. Fleury made the biggest save of the year, and Wild Bill made no mistake with a perfect shot to beat Martin Jones and seal the deal.

That doesn’t take away from the fact that San Jose out-hustled Vegas for most of the game, winning board battles and foot races and interrupting Vegas’ rhythm with active sticks and diligent forechecking.

The Knights’ identity is built on hard work and effort, and the reason this season has gone the way it has is because every player has committed to that style of play. That’s something the Knights need to get back to tonight, and it needs to come from throughout the lineup.

How to Watch

Time: 7 p.m. PT

TV: NBC Sports Network

Radio: Fox Sports Radio 98.9 FM/1340 AM