Game 7 rears its ugly head yet again for the Golden Knights
For the third straight year, Vegas will have to play a deciding game after blowing a 3-1 lead.
The definition of insanity ... well, you know the rest.
But it truly is remarkable that the Golden Knights find themselves with the everloving desire of trying to test those boundaries.
Because for the third consecutive postseason, the Golden Knights are pushing the limits of the do-or-die mantra after losing 3-0 to the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday in Game 6 of their first-round series.
Game 7 is Friday at T-Mobile Arena.
“This is what it’s all about. This is why you work your ass off all season to have the record you have, to host this game in your building and give yourself the best opportunity,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “Coming into this series, there was probably a lot of bets that this would be a 6- or 7-game series. Two evenly matched teams.”
Insert “work your ass off to avoid a Game 7 altogether argument” here.
The life of the sports narrative is fickle. It can tell the stories of excitement and long-lasting memories or lead to dread that hangs like a dark cloud until the narrative is snapped.
And even for a 4-year-old franchise that has gone leaps and bounds above all meaningful expectations, the Golden Knights are once again on the brink of elimination after having seized all control in a series. For the third straight postseason, Vegas will be playing a Game 7 after giving up a 3-1 series lead; 2019 against the Sharks, and last year in the bubble against the Canucks.
This time, there won’t be horribly-called major penalties, or red-hot goalies that are from San Diego and played at Boston College to stand in the Golden Knights’ way.
“We believe in ourselves. We believe in our team,” said captain Mark Stone. “We have one game in our home rink to move on. It’s that simple.”
There’s something to be said about how 3-1 leads have become a foreign concept with the Golden Knights. Such instances range from shorthanded double overtime goals, to five-minute majors, and even forgetting how to score altogether.
Consider the Sharks and Canucks — the Golden Knights went into those Game 7s still as the better team. For 50 minutes in San Jose, they absolutely were. For 54 minutes in Edmonton, the Knights dominated the shot department before finally breaking through.
Friday is going to be the first time the Golden Knights enter a Game 7 as the inferior team.
Games 3 and 4 were supposed to be the slaying of the proverbial dragon — nine unanswered goals in two games, great goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, huge discrepancies in the shot department. Everything has lined up perfectly for the Golden Knights to pack their bags for a stay in Denver.
The past two games, especially Game 6, have reinforced the belief that the Wild can play a sound game, minimize their own mistakes, all while capitalizing on the Golden Knights’ own misfortunes.
The open ice wasn’t there in the second period like it has been the past four games. After a 22-1 edge in Game 5, the Golden Knights were held to seven total in Game 6. They were a team playing not to lose and not wanting to make the first mistake, rather than trying to establish the attack that got them to a 3-1 lead.
“You got two good defensive teams,” DeBoer said. “We’re on the road, and it wasn’t for lack of effort. I thought it was a hard-fought game at ice level both ways. There wasn’t a lot of looks.”
And in a game where you don’t want to make that one mistake, there need to be goals that come with it; Vegas had 1.56 expected goals despite 0.15 in the first period. Minnesota combined for 0.67 xGF in the second and third periods.
The Wild, however, got their goals. Kevin Fiala got behind the Vegas defense off a defensive zone breakout, Cody Glass being the only one left to make a play, setting up Ryan Hartman for the game’s first goal 4:21 into the game. Fiala added the Wild’s first power play goal of the series at 9:35 following an unsuccessful goaltender interference challenge that wiped out Chandler Stephenson’s potential tying goal.
Nick Bjugstad iced it at 15;17 for the 3-0 final.
“It was a feeling-out process, for sure, tonight,” Stone said. “We had some chances. I don’t think there were a ton of high-dangers each way. But, 0-0 going into the third, we had a chance to win the hockey game. We just didn’t play well enough in the third to win.”
One thing that’s been consistent about these 3-1 leads: The Golden Knights have found a way to give these teams life when they shouldn’t. Vegas goes from dominant through four games to faltering at the most inopportune times. In Games 5 and 6, they have faltered even if its by the slimmest of margins.
Now, the Golden Knights come back home with the chance to right the wrongs yet again from their own misgivings. A win sets them up with a now-well-rested Colorado team for the all-anticipated showdown the world has waited for.
A loss, though? The next chapter in the narrative of this franchise will be a doozy.
“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Reilly Smith said. “Our fans are going to be full of energy and are going to be pretty loud. Let’s make the most of it.”