John Locher / AP
Friday, June 1, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Heading to the nation’s capital with the Stanley Cup Final even 1-1 isn’t ideal for the Golden Knights, but it’s no reason to panic.
This is the third straight series where Vegas split the opening two games. Yet, the Golden Knights went on to win the series with relative ease. This one may prove more difficult, but the players aren’t afraid of needing to win on the road.
“I think it’s really important that we take a step back and take a deep breath, know that you’re not going to win this series in two games,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “You’re not going to lose the series in two games. Know that we have a confident group in here, a group that can go out and make plays and we’re a special group. We can go out and win games on the road. We’ve done it all playoffs. Should be nothing different moving on.”
The Golden Knights are no strangers to playing well in hostile territory. They have the best road record of any team in the NHL postseason at 6-2 and closed out each of the first three series with wins away from home.
“I think we try and play the same game no matter what building we're playing in,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “It worked very well in the postseason. Try to play the same game, play a quick, fast game, an up-tempo game. Every game is important in the playoffs. I really don't think it matters if you're playing on the road or at home, just make sure you're focused for the game.”
In the Golden Knights’ opening-night 6-4, win they amassed 22 takeaways while only giving the puck away nine times, but in Wednesday night’s loss they had fewer takeaways and more turnovers.
“We've got to be a little grittier,” Gallant said. “I thought the Caps finished more checks than we did on their forecheck. I thought they played a grittier game than we did. We had a chance to win the game. We didn't play a real bad game, but we didn't play enough to win. There's some things we've got to get better at. Overall, we've got to make sure we're playing gritty. Got to win the one-on-one battles, and that's how you win hockey games.”
The way Vegas has done that all season is by simplifying its game.
“(We need to) play more direct,” Schmidt said. “Play to our strengths. Try not to get sucked into the transition game that they want to play. They wanted us to turn the puck over. If we play more direct, I think we’re a much better team than we showed in the first 10 minutes, much better team than what we showed (Wednesday night).”
It’s easier said than done, especially if the Capitals can get an early lead. Washington utilizes a 1-1-3 forecheck with three players back to create as little space as possible for the opposition when trying to enter the offensive zone.
Once Washington has a lead, it can sit back and play defensively without extending itself to create its own chances. In Game 1 the Golden Knights led most of the way, forcing the Capitals to chase the game and opening up their defensive structure, which led to five goals.
Not only are the Golden Knights’ players fine with going on the road, they actually relish it.
“I think that our guys are ready to get on the road and get back to (playing) our game,” Schmidt said. “I think we did a great job the first 10 minutes of the game, then we got sucked into the transition game they wanted to play. They’re a very opportunistic team. If you turn pucks over, they’re going to make you pay.”
Many players may never play in more important games than these for the rest of their careers, but the Golden Knights don’t seem to be feeling the pressure.
“Going into the next game, I think our guys are gonna be more loose, which I think is good,” Schmidt said. “And when we play a little bit more relaxed, I think we're good.”