The Vegas Golden Knights have been an underdog ever since the 2017-18 NHL season opened. But the expansion team has defied expectations all along, including their domination of Winnipeg in the Western Conference Final.
They now find themselves in the underdog role once again in the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals. Things started promisingly enough with a 6-4 victory in Game 1. But Vegas has now lost two straight contests and are on the road in Washington for Game 4.
“We call ourselves the Golden Misfits for a reason,” said winger Ryan Reaves. “We’ve proven everyone else wrong all season.”
The Golden Knights were actually favored over the Capitals before the Finals. After all, they had home ice advantage. But they’ll need to win Game 4 in order to take control again.
“We’re still underdogs,” said left wing David Perron. “They’re a great team over there. Now the pressure is on them to keep going. We’re going to find a way to answer.”
Golden Knights Must Overcome Tough Washington Defense
The first game went Vegas’ way, as they forced the Capitals into a fast-paced contest. But Washington has since slowed things down and tightened up the defense. The result has been 3-2 and 3-1 victories within the past two contests.
This leaves the Golden Knights forced to respond and figure out how they can turn the game into more of an offensive affair again.
“We get it out on our blue line and we try to make a cross-ice play and they’re picking it off,” Reaves explained. “Their transition game is good. We’re getting to their blue line and we’re trying get cute again instead of doing what works. With this team, that’s getting it in and then going to work.”
Washington realizes this, which is why they’ve made such an effort to slow Vegas, which averaged 3.31 goals per contest — tied for fourth in the league.
“Offensive teams have certain tendencies, certain routes that they take through the neutral zone, plays they like to make,” said Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen. “So if you can be on top of them and turn over some pucks, stifle them, make it hard for them to gain entry with possession, that frustrates skilled players.”
Vegas only landed 22 shots on net in Game 3. Tomas Nosek is the only Golden Knight who got on the score board. And this is only because Washington goaltender Braden Holtby did a terrible job of clearing the puck.
“They defended well. We were getting clogged up a little bit,” said Vegas winger James Neal. “They sit back. We’ve got to get pucks to the net. We didn’t have enough shots. We didn’t have enough bodies going to the net. They out-battled us. We’re going to look at that and fix it.”
Vegas Must Overcome Adversity by Getting Back to Game Plan
“We’ve just got to get back to our game, getting pucks deep and getting in on the forecheck,” explained defenseman Derek Engelland. “It’s been our key all season long, the five-man forecheck and five-guy pressure all over the ice.”
The Golden Knights don’t necessary have to force a high-scoring game to win. After all, two of their playoff victories have been 1-0 defensive gems. But they certainly need to get some more shots on goal and prevent mistakes at the other end.
“Working hard to get down low, we just couldn’t hold onto it or make a big play, and the Capitals are going the other way,” said Vegas center Ryan Carpenter.
Washington coach Barry Trotz did a good job of switching things up after Game 1. And this has really played a big role in their latest successes.
“There are things that they do that have given us some difficulties, and we’ve adjusted,” Trotz said. “They’ll do the same.”
Can Vegas break through Washington’s revamped defense? The answer will go a long way towards determining if these underdogs can overcome one more challenge.
“We’ve been in situations like this before: adversity, have our backs against the wall a bit,” said defenseman Luca Sbisa. “The belief in our group is still here. Just got to stick together.”