Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP
Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020 | 9 a.m.
The Golden Knights on Tuesday missed a chance to end their second-round series with the Vancouver Canucks. The good thing about a 3-1 lead in a series though, is that they get another shot before the pressure ratchets up.
It’s a 3-2 lead now, as Vegas looks to eliminate the Canucks at 6:45 p.m. in Game 6. The Golden Knights have yet to play poorly, even with two losses in the series. They’re confident they will continue to be the better team as they look to move on to the conference finals.
“We’ve won three games, we just need one more,” forward Reilly Smith said. “We’re going to come into (tonight’s) game and try to step on their necks and end this.”
The Golden Knights have been one of the best teams in the league since the season restarted, evidenced by a sparkling 10-3 record. They cruised through the round-robin and made quick work of the Blackhawks in the first round, but are now finding a Vancouver team unwilling to roll over.
Vegas has outscored the Canucks 16-10 and outshot them 189-132, which starts to look like a blowout. Game 5 resembled one even more, with a 43-17 edge in shots. And yet the Canucks came out on top.
“That’s just how the game is sometimes,” Smith said. “On the bench we try to stay positive and maintain the idea that we’re going to stay patient and our opportunities are going to keep on coming and we’re just going to wait for the right bounces. It just seemed like we weren’t able to find any of those bounces last game.”
The downside of the Golden Knights firing off nearly 36 shots per game is that it amplifies opposing goalies’ performances and creates the idea that there’s a problem when there isn’t one. Sometimes an opposing goalie is going to be amazing.
Corey Crawford stole Game 4 last round in a 48-save performance for Chicago, then allowed four goals on 39 shots the next game as Vegas won the series in five games. Thatcher Demko was terrific for the Canucks on Tuesday, but that far from guarantees a repeat performance, the kind the Canucks might need to force a Game 7.
Yes, the Golden Knights can get more traffic in front of the Vancouver net, or make sure to capitalize on defensive mistakes or any number of things to make Demko’s job harder in Game 6, but sometimes good goaltending is the factor that most determines the outcome of a game. For proof of that, Vegas fans need not look further than the beginning of this season, when Marc-Andre Fleury helped keep a struggling team afloat.
The Golden Knights have held the expected-goals edge at 5-on-5 in every game this series and have yet to be outshot. With the possible exception of Game 2, the Golden Knights have been the better team in every game this series to an obvious degree. That’s not something you want to change.
“You can’t overreact,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “There’s not many quarterfinal series like this, conference semifinal series, that end in five games. It just doesn’t happen.”
Indeed, all four of the remaining series across the league involved one team up 3-1. Only one ended in Game 5.
Over the last two series, Vegas has had a built-in margin for error of being able to lose Game 5 and even Game 6. They can allow a goalie to steal a game or have an off night, then shrug it off. The ability to lose Game 5 was a luxury. Lose Game 6 though, and it’s a whole new mindset.
Lose, and suddenly the Canucks are on a two-game winning streak going to a do-or-die Game 7 on Friday night, a situation that would eerily resemble last year’s blown 3-1 lead and series loss to the Sharks.
The Canucks are a team with boatloads of emerging star power. The Golden Knights never expected them to go down without a fight.
“When you get down to the last eight teams, it’s never easy to close anybody out,” DeBoer said. “They found a way to win a game between some good goaltending and some opportunistic goals. We’ve got to look at it and come back and we’ll get another shot at it in Game 6.”
Series: Golden Knights lead 3-1
TV: NBC Sports Network (DirecTV 220, Cox 38, CenturyLink 640)
Radio: Fox Sports 1340 AM and 98.9 FM
Betting line: Golden Knights minus-240, Canucks plus-190; over/under: 6 (minus-110, minus-110)
Golden Knights (10-3, Western Conference No. 1 seed)
Previous round: Defeated Chicago in first round, 4-1
Coach: Peter DeBoer (first season)
Points leaders: Mark Stone, Shea Theodore (15)
Goals leaders: Alex Tuch (7)
Assists leaders: Shea Theodore (10)
Expected goalie: Robin Lehner (2.08 GAA, .918 save percentage)
Canucks (9-6, Western Conference No. 7 seed)
Previous round: Defeated St. Louis in first round, 4-2
Coach: Travis Green (third season)
Points leaders: Elias Pettersson (18)
Goals leader: Bo Horvat (9)
Assists leaders: Quinn Hughes (13)
Expected goalie: Thatcher Demko (0.88 GAA, .979 save percentage)
Golden Knights projected lineup
Max Pacioretty—William Karlsson—Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault—Paul Stastny—Reilly Smith
Nick Cousins—Nicolas Roy—Alex Tuch
William Carrier—Chandler Stephenson—Ryan Reaves
Brayden McNabb—Nate Schmidt
Alec Martinez—Shea Theodore
Nick Holden—Zach Whitecloud
Robin Lehner, Marc-Andre Fleury