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May 21, 2019

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Golden Knights could take control of playoff series against Kings with win

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Steve Marcus

Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore (27) and left wing Erik Haula (56) are shown by a Stanley Cup logo during Game 1 of an NHL hockey first-round play-off series against the Los Angeles Kings in T-Mobile Arena Wednesday, April 11, 2018.

Vegas Golden Knights vs LA Kings in Game 1

A sold-out crowd wait for the start of Game 1 of an NHL hockey first-round play-off series with the Vegas Golden Knights against the Los Angeles Kings in T-Mobile Arena Wednesday, April 11, 2018. Launch slideshow »

This, arguably, could be the most significant game in the young history of the Vegas Golden Knights.

Every playoff game has importance, but the implications of the second game in a best-of-seven game series are magnified. Using historical data from every series in NHL playoff history, the Golden Knights will have an 89.3 percent chance to win the series if they beat the Kings tonight at T-Mobile Arena for a 2-0 series advantage.

But if they lose and head to Los Angeles tied at 1-1, Vegas’ chances to advance are just 51.3 percent.

“It’s huge,” Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb said. “If we can (keep) home ice advantage it’s big for us, and we know how we have to play to be successful. I thought we did a good job of it last night and we just need to continue that momentum.”

Of the 290 teams that have taken a 2-0 series lead at home, only 31 have gone on to lose the series.

“It’s big,” said Shea Theodore, who scored the lone goal in the Golden Knights 1-0 victory Wednesday night. “When you get that first win you want to try to keep that momentum rolling and we’ve been playing pretty strong at home all year. Going up 2-0 is definitely better than 1-1 heading into their barn, so we just have to keep playing the same way and try to have another good night.”

The Kings have plenty of playoff experience with 928 combined playoff games on their roster, meaning their players understand what’s on the line tonight.

“They’re hoping for a split on the road and we’re hoping to get two,” Golden Knights forward Cody Eakin said. “We have to continue to play fast, play hard, limit their chances and continue to play Knights hockey.”

To take an early stranglehold on the series Vegas will try to replicate its Game 1 performance, especially on the forecheck. The Golden Knights used speed and pressure in the first game to force nine takeaways compared to the Kings’ three.

“We wanted to play fast and we wanted to use our assets,” Eakin said. “We want to be hard on the forecheck, finish our checks and make it hard for them to generate anything.”

Playing that style of hockey is exhausting, but the Golden Knights’ depth allows them to execute it better than most teams.

“I think our speed is very effective,” McNabb said. “Rolling four lines and six defensive pairings allows us to keep our speed up for 60 minutes and when we do that we’re really effective.”

Every player on the Golden Knights finished the game with more than 10 minutes of ice time (excluding William Carrier who left the game with an injury), while Los Angeles played fourth-line forwards Kyle Clifford and Torrey Mitchell 7:17 and 7:53 respectively.

Defenseman Nate Schmidt led the Golden Knights with 24:32 on the ice, which is high but not nearly as much as Kings’ defenseman Drew Doughty who played nearly half the game at 28:02 of ice time. To make matters worse for the Kings, Doughty has been suspended for tonight’s game after a hit to the head of Carrier in game one.

By spreading the ice time amongst more players, coach Gerard Gallant allows his players to play more aggressively and expend more energy. If the Golden Knights can duplicate the performance from Wednesday they will head to Los Angeles in great shape.

“I think we are such a fast team that it’s hard to skate with us,” Eakin said. “When we dictate the play and when we use our speed, finish our checks and do all the little things it’s very hard to play against.”

Jesse Granger can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected]lasvegassun.com. Follow Jesse on Twitter at twitter.com/JesseGranger_.

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