The Vegas Golden Knights will be facing elimination when they play the Dallas Stars in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS), but they believe things are going to turn in their favor.
“The worst thing we can do is analyze this to death and start changing a bunch of things,” coach Peter DeBoer said Sunday. “If you can throw out double the amount of high-danger scoring chances on a given night, you’re going to win most games. You’ve got to trust that eventually that will come around and swing your way.”
Things have not gone their way through most of the series, and Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin is a big reason.
The No. 1-seeded Golden Knights have outshot the No. 3-seeded Stars 130-92 in the series, but they have scored six goals, including one on 33 shots in a 2-1 loss in Game 4 on Saturday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves or anything,” said forward Jonathan Marchessault, who has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 19 postseason games but has gone 10 games without a goal. “The playoffs are never over until it’s over. You can’t look it like a big mountain right now. Let’s focus on tomorrow. We have a lot of scoring chances. We’ve created a lot still. We just can’t find the back of the net.”
Marchessault is not the only Vegas forward struggling. Reilly Smith also has gone 10 games without a goal, and Max Pacioretty has gone seven. Mark Stone and Alex Tuch each has one goal in his past eight games. William Karlsson has one in seven. Paul Stastny has two in 12.
“We’re going to get out of it all together and pushing all in the same direction, being all on the same page,” Marchessault said. “There are no quitters in that locker room. So I know we’re going to battle until the end.”
Since the NHL introduced the conference format in 1981-82, teams that trailed 3-1 in the conference finals are 1-34. The New Jersey Devils rallied to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2000 Eastern Conference Final and then won the Stanley Cup.
Though not in a conference final, DeBoer has led a team back from trailing 3-1. It was last season against Vegas in the Western Conference First Round as coach of the San Jose Sharks.
“One of the games was a goalie win, one was a power-play win,” DeBoer said. “Whether it’s a line getting hot for a night, a power-play win, a goalie win, a penalty-kill win, you’ve just got to find a way. For me, through four games, a good piece of this is keeping the things we’re doing really well, which is a large majority of our game. We haven’t gotten rewarded for that yet, but I believe we will.”
The scoring issue for Vegas is a carryover from its seven-game win against the Vancouver Canucks in the first round.
The Golden Knights led that series 3-1, but despite having 127 shots on goal in the final three games, they scored twice against Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko and twice into an empty net.
After scoring 45 goals in its first 12 postseason games, Vegas has 10 in its past seven, including four from forwards that were not into an empty net.
In 19 postseason games, Vegas has a shooting percentage of 8.0 percent, below the NHL average of 8.86 percent. But in the seven games since Game 4 against Vancouver, it is 3.9 percent.
DeBoer said the Golden Knights need to do a better job getting traffic in front of Khudobin.
“When a goalie is hot, if he can’t see it, he can’t stop it. So we have to get bodies there,” DeBoer said. “Other than that, we created enough looks with the puck in the right people’s hands. Most times, we’re getting at least three goals in a game like that and maybe four or five. We’ve just got to stay with it.”
Marchesssault said the mental approach of the Golden Knights is also key.
“Well, my emotional level cannot rise,” Marchessault said. “It needs to cool down a little bit. I think, honestly, we’ve been pretty good, everybody. We’re grinding. We’re playing the right way. We’re not giving a lot of scoring chances. We just can’t bear down. At some point, we’ve got to stick with it. It’s adversity you’re going to face in the playoffs. We’re going to face hot goalies, we’re going to face offensive power, like Vancouver had a good power play, stuff like that. We’re going to face all of that.
“This year, we have expectations. It’s a tough thing in hockey sometimes. I know we have a lot of gamers in that locker room. Not that I’m not worried, we just have to take care of business tomorrow.”