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August 18, 2019

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Golden Knights’ relentless, timely play has them one win from the Stanley Cup Final


Steve Marcus

Winnipeg’s Brandon Tanev skates by Golden Knights players as they celebrate a goal by Reilly Smith during the third period of Game 4 of the Western Conference finals at T-Mobile Arena, Friday, May 18, 2018.

Game 4: VGK defeats Winnipeg Jets 3-2

Vegas Golden Knights center William Karlsson (71) scores against Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) during the first period of Game 4 of the NHL hockey playoffs Western Conference finals at T-Mobile Arena Friday, May 18, 2018. Launch slideshow »

When the Winnipeg Jets took the ice for pregame warm-ups for Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden Knights, there was something peculiar about the fans peering at them through the glass.

Scantily clad Las Vegas showgirls made their way to the front row. Their glimmering sequins and vibrant red and yellow feathered outfits conjured up memories of a scene from “The Replacements” where the new cheerleaders distract the opposing team with provocative moves.

Early in the season, the Golden Knights drew comparisons to “The Replacements.” If you haven’t seen the film, it is centered on a football-player strike and a ragtag bunch of scab players who emerge and play over their heads.

Sound familiar?

But after Friday night’s 3-2 win at T-Mobile Arena, the Golden Knights are one win away from the Stanley Cup Final and they are more comparable to Jason Vorhees from the cult horror franchise “Friday the 13th.”

There are 12 movies featuring Jason (probably a few too many, to be honest) and the campers kill Jason in just about all of them, but he just won’t stay dead.

In the last three games of their series with Winnipeg, the Golden Knights have given up game-tying goals on multiple occasions, but they always seem to come right back like Jason and his tortured hockey mask rising from the bog.

Friday night, fourth-line winger Tomas Nosek committed an irresponsible penalty by tripping a Jet 200 feet from his own net. He sat in the penalty box and watched Jets’ star Patrik Laine blister a one-timer past Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the game 1-1.

But coach Gerard Gallant put Nosek right back onto the ice, and on his next shift — 43 seconds after Laine’s goal — he notched a goal of his own.

“When a guy makes a mistake, you want to get him out there as soon as you can, and that’s what we’ve done all season long,” Gallant said. “Nosek is the type of kid that felt worse than anyone when that goal went in the back of the net, so fortunately for him everything worked out.”

It’s the mentality of the entire team, which has destroyed every shred of confidence the Jets have mustered over the last three games.

In Game 2, Kyle Connor scored for the Jets to pull Winnipeg within one goal and get the home crowd back into the game. Jonathan Marchessault answered with a goal 88 seconds later to stretch the lead back to 3-1 and ice the game.

In Game 3, Mark Scheifele scored early in the second period to pull the Jets even at 1-1, but James Neal responded with a goal 12 seconds later to give the Golden Knights a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Then in Game 4, Nosek answered the Jets’ tying goal with a goal 43 seconds later. The Jets would tie the game again 2-2 in the third period, but Reilly Smith went top shelf to beat Connor Hellebuyck to give Vegas a 3-2 win.

“It just shows you the character of the team,” said goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. “The fact that we always bounce back when they get one to keep the momentum on our side has been a key to the series.”

The Jets have blitzed Vegas in the third period in each of the games, but Fleury’s stellar play held the Golden Knights’ heads above the water.

“We win that game nine times out of 10, but tonight was the one,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler said after the loss. “We had some looks where their goalie made some extraordinary saves. You've got to sometimes take your hat off to a good player sealing a game.”

It’s felt that way nearly the entire series. And as soon as the Jets finally beat Fleury, the Golden Knights are waiting to take the wind out of their sails.

“It’s tough for the other team,” Nate Schmidt said. ”When you score a goal, you’re trying to ride that high and your guys are feeling good. So for us to go and score a goal, it’s great for our group.”

The Golden Knights’ even-keeled approach has served them well.

“It’s just our mentality when we get over to the bench,” Schmidt said. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself because that’s when two and three and four (goals) start piling on. That’s been incredibly important.”

Nosek's goal was a microcosm of the mentality that has led the Golden Knights to this point.

“It was a bad penalty in the offensive zone, so when they scored I felt terrible for sure, but coach put me right back on the ice again and I scored, so I felt a little bit of relief,” Nosek said.

The Golden Knights now head back to Winnipeg for an early Sunday start to Game 5 at noon Pacific time.

You can expect their play to be as relentless as the machete-wielding horror villain calmly stalking his victims as they predictably trip and fall.

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