After losing the first two games of their best-of-seven, second-round series to the Colorado Avalanche in Denver, the Vegas Golden Knights find themselves in the unenviable position of having to win four times in five games.
Considering Colorado is just the third Presidents’ Trophy winning team to start the playoffs with six consecutive wins — the other two, the 1993-94 New York Rangers (seven in a row) and the 1998-99 Dallas Stars (six) went on to win the Stanley Cup — and is also 20-0-1 in its last 21 home games, that would appear to be a mighty large hole to climb out of for Peter DeBoer’s squad.
But after losing 3-2 in overtime to the Avalanche on Wednesday night in Game 2, Vegas captain Mark Stone wasn’t ready to throw in the towel heading into Game 3 on Friday night in Las Vegas.
“The good news is we lost two here, and now we go home to 18,000 fans and take care of home ice and come back here for Game 5 tied up,” Stone said.
“They held serve at home,” said DeBoer. “Now we’ve got to do the same.”
The Golden Knights had much more reason for optimism after bouncing back from a dreadful 7-1 loss in Game 1 to outplay the Avalanche for much of Game 2, rallying from a 2-1 first period deficit to tie it on a second-period goal by Reilly Smith while outshooting Colorado, 31-12, over the final two periods.
Smith was called for a slashing penalty on Mikko Rantanen just 44 seconds into overtime — DeBoer complained it was a “soft” penalty — and Rantanen scored the winner on a wrist shot from the right face-off dot that bounced in off goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s left shoulder on the ensuing power play to hand Vegas a bitter defeat.
“It’s not easy to take when you lose in the playoffs,” said DeBoer. “I thought we deserved better. I really liked a lot of things we did and our effort, but got to find a way to bury one of those chances and win a game.”
Vegas hit the goalpost five times in the contest while Philipp Grubauer came up with a number of grade-A saves for the Avs, including one on a late Alex Tuch breakaway.
“After Game 1 we were out to prove that we can play with this team and I think we did that,” said DeBoer. “We’ve got to come out in Game 3 and do the same thing. One game at a time. The series is a long way from over.”
Except for a few sections behind the team benches, which will be blocked off due to COVID-19 protocols, it should be a full house for Game 3. Vegas went 21-5-2 at T-Mobile Arena during the regular season but just 2-2 in its four first-round home games against the Minnesota Wild.
Colorado won 2-1 on May 10 in its last trip to Las Vegas behind 36 saves by Grubauer in what turned out to be deciding game for the Presidents’ Trophy.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy series,” Rantanen said Wednesday. “They were second in the regular season just behind us. We tied on points, so we knew there were going to be tough periods and maybe some tough games like today. It wasn’t our best game. We know that. But we need to find a way (to win) even when we don’t play our best.”
That’s what the Avalanche did in Game 2 thanks to Grubauer’s sparkling 39-save performance.
“It’s huge,” Grubauer, who became the 10th goalie in NHL history to win 10 or more consecutive playoff decisions, said of the victory. “It’s a big difference if you lead the series 2-0 or if you go into Vegas 1-1.”
–Field Level Media