Round 1, Game 7 Preview: It’s do or die for the Golden Knights as they take on the Sharks one last time

After failing to close out this series twice, third time’s the charm for Vegas, right?

The best two words in sports: game seven.

It’s the type of game players dream about as kids, but it is also the type of pressure-cooker game that can define a player and a team. For the Vegas Golden Knights, it will be their first Game 7 in franchise history.

While the intense, nerve-wracking experience of a Game 7 is unmatched, there is perhaps a little extra pressure in this game for the Golden Knights than for the San Jose Sharks considering the Knights have blown a 3-1 series lead.

This team does not seem to feel that way, however, and the Knights are actually a confident bunch ahead of tonight’s showdown in San Jose.

“We’re confident in the group we have here,” said Jonathan Marchessault. “We’re a confident group and a great hockey team. Just have to keep going and stick with it. I think if we keep playing the right way, like we did tonight, I think we’ll get rewarded.”

Although the Golden Knights are confident in their play, oddsmakers view this game as a coin flip, with every sports book along the strip listing this game at -105 or -110 both ways.

With tonight’s game expected to be a tight contest, here are a few things the Golden Knights need to do to win.

Score first

The pressure in Game 7 is enormous, and capturing the lead is paramount for both teams. It’s cliche to stress the importance of the first goal, but it’s been everything in this series, as the team that has scored first has gone 6-0. Extrapolate first-goal statistics to strictly Game 7 situations and the team that scores first is 128-44.

Scoring first would also help the Golden Knights deject what should be an energetic crowd at SAP Center. We have seen Martin Jones give up early goals on multiple occasions this series, so expect Vegas to throw everything they can at the net during the first 10 minutes of the game to hopefully slide one past Jones and get an early lead.

Find a way to create chances in the slot

Although the Golden Knights fired 59 shots at Jones on Sunday, a lot of them were from the perimeter and not as threatening as you might think. Yes, Vegas had a plethora of chances, but the high-danger scoring chances, which were 19-12 in favor of Vegas, were not as lopsided as you might think for a team that outshot its opponent 59-29.

The problem for Vegas during Game 6 was that the Knights could not find a way to create chances from the inner slot. According to The Point Hockey, the Golden Knights were only able to generate seven shots from the inner slot during Game 6, down from the 8.6 they’ve averaged during the series. When you consider this was a game that went to double overtime and a game in which the Golden Knights outshot the Sharks by a whopping 30 shots, it’s amazing they were only able to generate seven shots from that high-danger area of the ice.

Overall, Vegas generated 17 slot shots in Game 6, but the Knights struggled  to generate scoring chances on the rush, which is something they have done a lot in this series with great success.

If the Golden Knights are going to win Game 7, they will have to find a way to not only create chances from the slot, but also off the rush.

Get ready for a physical game

If the third period and overtime periods of Game 6 were any indication of what to expect going forward, the referees are likely going to put their whistles away if the score is tight late in the game. For example:

We can debate the whole “let them play” narrative forever, but come playoff time it is an inevitable part of the game every team deals with, particularly in overtime or in a crucial Game 7 situation. This is not necessarily something the Golden Knights can control, but it is something they will have to be prepared for.

Continue to dominate the offensive zone

When you look at the way the Golden Knights dominated the offensive zone in Game 6, there is not much to nitpick aside from their lack of chances from the inner slot. They controlled the pace of play for the entire game and dominated puck possession.

Vegas’ relentless forecheck was a problem for the Sharks in Game 6, and it led to numerous icings. If the Golden Knights can continue to generate the offensive pressure they generated on Sunday, there’s a good chance they will finish Game 7 with more than just one goal, and hopefully enough goals to come out on top.

How to watch

Time: 7 p.m. PT

TV: NBCSN, AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM