Golden Knights stay calm and collected facing elimination, but should they be?

by 24USATVJune 23, 2021, noon 23
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The Golden Knights have already survived blowing a 3-1 series lead and then falling into a 2-0 hole against the NHL’s best team in their first two series of this postseason.

It’s only fitting that they’ve now lined up another unique hurdle in front of themselves and their goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Final after losing to the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena. Vegas must now win back-to-back games, including Thursday night in Montreal, to overcome a 3-2 series deficit and prevail in the Stanley Cup playoff semifinals.

Perhaps informed by those earlier experiences, they appeared to be oddly comfortable in the precarious position after the Game 5 loss.

“Oftentimes things don’t go the way you planned, but I’ve said it all series long: You play seven games for a reason,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “You guys can sit there and pick it apart all you want, but we’re going to go Montreal and we’ve got a job to do. We’ll refocus tomorrow, get on the plane and get the job done in a couple of days.”

The Golden Knights came off as nonchalant in Wednesday night’s postgame as they did on the ice against a Canadiens’ team they should dominate on paper. They pretty much just repeated the same platitudes they’ve used after every playoff loss: They’re not panicked, they know they can play better and they’re confident they’re going to play better.

The fact that they’re running out of time barely seems to have dawned on them.

It’s up to interpretation whether such cool is a cause for concern or a positive that shows championship-caliber conviction. It would probably be easier to commit to the former idea if this were the first time the Golden Knights were facing imminent danger.

But they’ve already proven their composure is one of their strengths, so maybe give them the benefit of the doubt. As good as the Golden Knights have been all season, nothing has come easy for them in the playoffs so it may have been wrong to suggest that this series would be any different.

“We’ve been in this type of spot, we’ve had adversity before and we’ve responded the right way every time with this group,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “So I’m confident we’ll be ready to go in Game 6.”

Again, the attitude has worked before so it might be premature to criticize or continue with the boos the Golden Knights received starting in the second period of Game 5. But some signs of urgency sure could be reassuring too.

There were few in the game where Vegas, much like in its Game 2 loss, got off to yet another slow start and failed to really attack until staring into a significant third-period deficit when Montreal was laying back. Max Pacioretty kind-of, sort-of broke the top-forward scoring slump with a wrister out of a faceoff in a final frame when Vegas generated way more chances than Montreal, but they were far too late.

It was the kind of performance where the aftermath could have merited something like Jonathan Marchessault’s famous guarantee after a playoff loss in 2018 or the type of resolute message Mark Stone has provided throughout tough parts of the season.

But there was none of that, and neither of those two players were even made available to media.

The absence of Stone, who still hasn’t registered a point in the series, was conspicuous. These were the types of moments DeBoer referenced at the beginning of the season when he spoke about the importance of a captain and why Stone was being named the first one in franchise history.

The Golden Knights go as Stone goes, and the quickest way they can flip their fate in the series is if he can find his form in games 6 and 7. It’s just hard to sink much faith in that happening after he’s picked an inopportune time to go missing.

“This isn’t a night we’re going to pile on people,” DeBoer said. “We’ve been on a long playoff road here and we’ve gotten a lot of unbelievable efforts. It was an off night by everybody, everybody is in that boat, not just Mark Stone. This is about our response.”

And the Golden Knights’ responses have typically been strong. It may not feel like it, but their current spot isn’t more daunting than where they sat after losing the first two games to the Avalanche by any metric.

It’s worse than the position the Golden Knights were in after the Wild forced a Game 7 analytically, but not anecdotally. With the troubles Minnesota had inflicted on Vegas all year, many were pessimistic about the Golden Knights’ chances in a winner-take-all showdown.

Vegas had one of its best games in response, backing up words about staying the course and trusting its abilities. The Golden Knights have fought back before; it's time to see if they can do it again.

“We didn’t play good at all today,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said. “We played right into their game. We didn’t play our game at all. We know what we need to fix, and we can win in their building so we’re going to do that.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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