The Vegas Golden Knights are two games removed from holding a commanding 3-0 lead in the Western Conference Final; now, heading into tonight’s Game 6 matchup (5 p.m., ESPN), the Dallas Stars have pulled within one and have all the momentum.
The Stars will get an extra boost with the return of captain Jamie Benn following his two-game suspension for cross-checking Mark Stone in the opening minutes of Game 3.
“There’s a tendency to take a breath now because Jamie’s back and we’ve gotten through that adversity,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “We can’t do that. Now you can see the finish line, and we’ve got to make sure we take care of business and give ourselves a chance to cross it.”
The Golden Knights have a say in how close the Stars get to that “finish line.”
DeBoer has made a point to stress how the pressure of the series has shifted fully on Vegas.
“That’s a big pressure to blow a 3-0 lead,” he said Sunday.
The Golden Knights haven’t done that yet, and the players remain relaxed and focused. However, the Golden Knights have entered must-win territory; allowing the Stars to force a winner-take-all Game 7 would be playing with fire, to say the least. That’s especially true since DeBoer is 7-0 all-time in Game 7 matchups, including the infamous Game 7 comeback in 2019 against the Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights are 3-4 all-time in Game 6 matchups, which is all the more reason Vegas needs to summon its killer instinct tonight in Dallas.
“We know if we come out with our best game, we’ll win the game,” Reilly Smith said. “We just have to really focus on what we’re going to do and put our game plan into effect.”
That game plan needs to involve fixing some of the mistakes that have brought the Golden Knights to this moment.
“We can’t keep playing the way we have the last two games and expect them to go away,” Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said.
That includes the Golden Knights’ 24 giveaways in Game 5. Many of those came from below the goal line, with the Vegas defensemen under immense pressure from Dallas’ forecheck.
Better breakouts will be key.
“We have to manage the first touch to get out of our end,” Cassidy said.
The Golden Knights also have to do a much better job of taking away the middle of the ice and forcing perimeter shots as well as playing significantly better around the net-front and limiting second-chance opportunities.
“Win your races, win your battles,” Cassidy said. “When you do, you have the composure to hopefully make a good play. We made some [in Game 5]; they made more.”
The Golden Knights know they have to play with more urgency, as Dallas has done facing elimination the last two games.
“There’s no doubt here,” Alec Martinez said. “There’s frustration; obviously, you want to close out a series. But again, the Dallas Stars are a really good hockey team. This is that time of year that they’re playing really well, and we’ve got to match their urgency and desperation.”
Stone also recognizes the importance of playing with more urgency.
“I don’t think we’ve brought our best for the last two games, but we’ve still been in a good spot to win the game,” he said. “Definitely gotta bring a little bit better effort, start playing a little more desperate with a chance to wrap it up.”
Vegas has scored first in each of the last three games but has lost the last two after blowing one-goal leads four times. In Game 5, the Golden Knights held those leads for just 1:48 and 2:09. Instead of cashing in on opportunities to extend the lead, the Golden Knights have surrendered momentum and allowed the Stars to get right back into it.
“We’re going to have to push each other a little bit to play the right way for 60 minutes, not a period,” Cassidy said.
Based on morning skate, it appears that Cassidy will make the changes he alluded to yesterday, primarily involving moving Nicolas Roy back to the fourth line after that line got significantly outplayed by Dallas’ in Game 5. To accommodate that, Michael Amadio will play on the William Karlsson line, and Brett Howden returns to the Chandler Stephenson line.
DeBoer has not indicated who will come out of the lineup to make room for Benn. It’ll likely be Fredrik Olofsson, though Mason Marchment is a possibility.
Ivan Barbashev – Jack Eichel – Jonathan Marchessault
Reilly Smith – William Karlsson – Michael Amadio
Brett Howden – Chandler Stephenson – Mark Stone
William Carrier – Nicolas Roy – Keegan Kolesar
Alec Martinez – Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb – Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague – Zach Whitecloud
Jason Robertson – Roope Hintz – Joe Pavelski
Jamie Benn – Wyatt Johnston – Tyler Seguin
Joel Kiviranta – Max Domi – Ty Dellandrea
Mason Marchment – Radek Faksa – Luke Glendening
Ryan Suter – Miro Heiskanen
Thomas Harley – Joel Hanley
Esa Lindell – Jani Hakanpaa
How to watch
Game 6: Golden Knights at Stars
When: 5 p.m. PT
Where: American Airlines Center – Dallas, TX
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM