ARLINGTON, Va. – In a season of firsts, the Vegas Golden Knights are faced with another heading into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
They’ve lost two games in a row for the first time this postseason and are down 2-1 in their best-of-seven series with the Washington Capitals. It’s just the second time they’ve trailed a playoff series, after losing Game 1 of the Western Conference Final to the Winnipeg Jets.
"It's not something we're not used to," winger David Perron said. "We had a lot of media thinking we'd get run over the entire series against them. We find a way to win four in a row, win in five. We're in a familiar situation with a lot of doubters. It's fine with us. We have to step up and play the right way."
Defenseman Luca Sbisa said the Golden Knights have handled adversity before, and that the self-belief is still there. But after sweeping the Los Angeles Kings, beating the San Jose Sharks in six games, and handling Winnipeg in five, adversity has been scarce for Vegas in its inaugural season.
But the Golden Knights are facing plenty of it now, sitting just two losses away from watching the Capitals win the Stanley Cup - and ending their Cinderella season in the process.
"We've got to step up our game," head coach Gerard Gallant said. "In the three games, we haven't been good enough. And if we don't step up our game, the same result is going to happen (Monday) night. We'll see what we're made of."
Alex Ovechkin set the tone for Game 3 by scoring in his first Stanley Cup Final home game. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Devante Smith-Pelly also scored for the Capitals, who have rolled four lines far more effectively than the Golden Knights. Tomas Nosek, who had the Game 1 winner, scored off a Braden Holtby turnover in Game 3, but Vegas' depth has been otherwise absent.
The Golden Knights have so far been unable to answer Washington’s attack and find a solution to its stifling neutral-zone pressure.
"We’ve just got to get back to our game, getting pucks deep and getting in on the forecheck," veteran defenseman Deryk Engelland said. "It’s been our key all season long, is the five-man forecheck and five-guy pressure all over the ice. We do it for a little bit at a time and then I think we try to be too cute at times and they thrive on the turnovers."
The Knights didn’t practice Sunday ahead of Game 4, but Gallant said he’d consider making some changes to the lineup, which hasn’t changed all that much during the playoffs. He has tweaked his fourth line and pushed the right buttons with Nosek, Ryan Reaves, and Tomas Tatar.
"I think they’re working hard," forward Ryan Carpenter said. "The pucks didn’t go in for them last game but I don’t know, just bounces. We can’t just look to them to lead us. we’ve got to find a way as depth lines to produce and get some offense."
Gallant could make some tweaks, but he's not going to overhaul his philosophy after guiding the Golden Knights this far.
"You have to lose four games before you lose the Stanley Cup and we're far from out of it," he said.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)