Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau
Sunday, May 20, 2018 | 2 a.m.
The Golden Knights need one more win to reach the Stanley Cup Final, but it won't be easy.
With a 3-2 win Friday night at T-Mobile Arena Vegas took a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Jets. Since 1974, teams that take a 3-1 series lead in the conference finals or semifinals have won 40-of-41 times (97.6%).
The odds are clearly in Vegas’ favor, but winning in Winnipeg is no easy task.
“It’s going to be a battle,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “They’re a very good hockey team and they’re going back to their building with their backs against the wall.”
The common theme in the Golden Knights’ locker room after Friday night’s win was that the last win over Winnipeg will be the toughest.
The Jets had the best home record in the NHL at 32-7-2 during the regular season, and the Golden Knights have already felt how challenging it can be to win in Winnipeg. In first game of the series, the Jets rode the wave of emotion created by their sellout crowd at Bell MTS Place to three goals in the opening eight minutes.
“It’s going to be a hard-fought battle both ways and we’re up for the challenge,” Vegas defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “We are having fun and that’s why I think our group has been really resilient.”
The games in this series have been much closer than the 3-1 lead for Vegas portrays. In the last two games — both Golden Knights wins — Winnipeg dominated the third period but was unable to beat goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Jets have held the puck in the Golden Knights’ zone for the majority of the third period, applying relentless pressure with their forecheck. Gallant knows that has to change for Vegas to end Winnipeg’s season.
“We talk about playing fast in all zones and you have to play fast in your defensive zone,” he said. “If you’re going to let them get to those loose pucks then they’re going to keep the pressure on you and that’s what happened.”
To better accomplish that, Vegas must roll all four lines like they have all season. The Golden Knights have made it this far by utilizing their depth so they can’t stop now.
“You can’t do everything yourself,” Schmidt said. “You have to rely on your teammates to go out and make plays, and that’s what we’ve been doing. You do what you can on your shift, count on the guy to do what he can on the next shift, and you hope that will wear on them.”
Most importantly, the Golden Knights’ can’t look beyond the task at hand.
“What’s been awesome about our group is we’ve had so much fun that I don’t want to fast forward or look ahead,” Schmidt said. “I want to be right here where we are right now. I want to enjoy this for about five minutes and then get ready to go up to Winnipeg.”
The puck drops for game five at noon, which is good news for Vegas. The Golden Knights have been outstanding this season in early games, going 15-2-1 in games played at 5 p.m. local time, 6-0 in games played before 3 p.m. and 1-0 in their only game with a noon start time.