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Playoff overtime bites Golden Knights again in squandered opportunity

It can be debated until Friday if Reilly Smith should’ve been sitting in the penalty box.

That won’t matter now. The Golden Knights are down 2-0 in a series for the first time in team history and let a gifted opportunity get away from them.

Mikko Rantanen scored 2:07 into overtime on the power play to give the Colorado Avalanche a 3-2 win in Game 2 as the series shifts to T-Mobile Arena on Friday.

Smith was called for slashing off a faceoff in the offensive zone 44 seconds into the extra frame. It had been a roller-coaster of a game already for one-third of the Misfit Line. He scored the tying goal at 10:28 of the second period, but hit three posts in the course of the final 30 minutes.

It was one of Smith’s better games in a month. And then it ended like that.

“Just a soft call,” said Pete DeBoer. “I can’t even blame the refs because they’re fighting through the embellishment of grabbing your face, or falling down, or dropping your stick every period. I can’t even blame the referee on it. They fooled them on it.”

It’s not just the fact the Golden Knights lost. They’ll have the opportunity to tie this series with two games at T-Mobile Arena in front of a sold-out crowd. The Golden Knights believe that playing the way they did in the second and third periods will translate into results, putting them back into this series.

“It’s a tough call,” Mark Stone said. “It’s a stick battle off a faceoff. I go through probably 30 of those a game and get my stick slashed almost in every one [of them], and I don’t drop my stick. It’s a tough call, especially in overtime.”

But for a team that went 9-0 in overtime during the regular season (albeit all at 3-on-3), overtime in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is an entirely new animal for the Golden Knights; one that’s the most difficult to tame.

Ever since they won in double overtime in Game 2 of their first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings in 2018, the Golden Knights have lost seven of their next nine playoff games that have gone into overtime.

And the trends are mind-boggling:

  • 2018 Game 2, Round 2 vs. San Jose: Logan Couture, 5:13 of 2OT — PPG
  • 2018 Game 3, Round 2 at San Jose: William Karlsson, 8:17 — EV
  • 2019 Game 6, Round 1 vs. San Jose: Tomas Hertl, 11:17 of 2OT — SHG
  • 2019 Game 7, Round 1 at San Jose: Barclay Goodrow, 18:19 — EV
  • 2020 Game 2, Round 1 vs. Chicago: Reilly Smith, 7:13 — EV
  • 2020 Game 3, WCF vs. Dallas: Alexander Radulov, 31 seconds — EV
  • 2020 Game 5, WCF vs. Dallas: Denis Gurianov, 3:36 — PPG
  • 2021 Game 1, Round 1 vs. Minnesota: Joel Eriksson Ek, 3:20 — EV
  • 2021 Game 2, Round 2 at Colorado: Mikko Rantanen, 2:07 — PPG/

There’s no surefire way to fix your strategy in playoff overtime. Teams play their game nearly the exact same way they would after 60 minutes of regulation. When it comes to the Golden Knights, they may need an overtime exorcism.

With the loss tonight, Vegas dropped its fourth consecutive playoff game when it’s gone to overtime, twice in these playoffs. What’s more about these past four games: They’ve all finished in less than five minutes, two on the power play. Four of the Golden Knights’ seven playoff OT losses have come by way of special teams, including Hertl’s shorthanded goal in 2018.

Hindsight’s 20-20, but a couple of wins on this ledger change the complexion of at least one of these postseasons. But the trend of games ending within the first four minutes might be of some concern. Whether or not the calls were valid (Smith’s slashing, Zach Whitecloud’s delay of game in Game 5 against Dallas), the record says what it says.

Because of that, the Golden Knights go back home after losing the first two games of a series for the first time. In a postseason where the margin of error is slim, the Golden Knights have struggled.

They get two games to make up for that.