Sam Morris / Las Vegas News Bureau
Thursday, June 7, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Trailing in the Stanley Cup Final series 3-1 and facing elimination for the first time in team history, the Golden Knights can’t afford another slip-up.
“There’s no Plan B or backdoor to go to here,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “There’s no side entrance that you can get into. You have to face this thing head on. There’s no other way you can do it besides fighting your way out of the corner, and I think our group revels in those situations.”
Starting with today’s 5 p.m. game at T-Mobile Arena, Vegas needs three straight wins to avoid elimination — something that hasn’t been done in the final since 1942. There aren’t many who believe the Golden Knights can do it, which is exactly how they like it.
“We've been thriving on it all year,” Schmidt said. “That's something from Day One that we've had ever since training camp, ever since the expansion draft. You look at what this group can do and what it's accomplished so far, there's no reason why we can't go out and win Game 5. And we'll talk again before Game 6.”
Teams trailing 3-1 in the final have an all-time record of 1-32, but long odds have meant little to the Golden Knights’ results this season.
“We’ve had doubters from the start,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. “I don’t know how many records we broke over the course of the season, but it’s just something we’ve grown accustomed to by now, and we are going to come out and play hard.”
Few believe the Golden Knights can do it, and it almost feels like October all over again, when most predicted the team would serve as the NHL's doormat.
“I think there are a lot of similarities to what you read about people talking about you,” Theodore said. “‘They don’t have a good lineup, they can’t score goals, they can’t play defense,’ but we’ve proved everyone wrong all year and we’re just going to have to keep doing that.”
It won’t be easy. The Capitals didn’t take this commanding series lead by accident. Washington has completely neutralized the Golden Knights’ transition game, forcing them to dump the puck into the zone rather than carry it across the blue line with speed.
Vegas has one of the most potent offensive attacks in the entire NHL, and the Capitals have taken away their primary means of scoring by all but eliminating fast breaks. As Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said, “They deserve to be up three games to one.”
“We haven’t been playing our game,” Theodore said. “Yeah, they’re a great team, but at the same time we’ve been off a little bit and slacking defensively and through the neutral zone. Last game was definitely a step in the right direction to how we can play.”
Despite losing 6-2 in Game 4, the Golden Knights have extracted some positives. Vegas had 13 scoring chances in the first period compared with only three by the Capitals. The problem was the Golden Knights couldn’t finish the opportunities, including three shots off the goal post, and the Capitals went 3-for-3 on their chances.
“We got our feet moving, we got into a groove and we didn’t take any penalties,” Schmidt said. “I think the big thing about our group is if we can stay out of the box and roll four lines, then we’re going to be in good shape.”
After 10 minutes of dominant hockey, the Golden Knights took their first penalty of the night when Colin Miller tripped Lars Eller. T.J. Oshie cashed in with a power play goal 32 seconds later and Washington was off to the races. The Capitals have scored eight power play goals in only four games this series, converting at a 66.7 percent rate (8-of-12).
If the Golden Knights can keep the game at even strength, they have shown they can outplay Washington. In Game 4, Vegas out-chanced Washington 23-14 during 5-on-5 play.
“We’ve been through a lot with this city, and I think it just takes one to change the momentum of the series,” Schmidt said. “It’s good to get back home. We thrive off this crowd really well.”
If the Golden Knights win tonight, the entire outlook of the series changes. The Capitals go back to Washington up 3-2, facing a must-win game to avoid a Game 7 in Las Vegas.
“It’s an old cliche but you have to win four games, and no matter what we’re down, we aren’t going to quit,” Gallant said. “We’re going to work hard and battle hard.”
“Welcome to Impossible” has served as the Golden Knights’ catch phrase during the entire postseason. That, of course, refers to an expansion team making the Stanley Cup Final. If the team ends the run by doing something that hasn’t happened in 76 years, they’ll give it new meaning.
“You still have to win the four games right? It doesn’t matter how you fry it," Schmidt said. “We are just taking the long way around.”