Could the weight of everything the Vegas Golden Knights have achieved this season be finally starting to catch up with the sporting world’s best story?
If so, it would be the worst of the worst possible times.
In Vegas’ 100th game as a franchise, they did something that they hadn’t in their previous 17 before it — lose back-to-back in the playoffs.
The Golden Knights cruised into the Stanley Cup Final with a 12-3 record. They swept the Los Angeles Kings and then won a 4-2 series against the San Jose Sharks and a 4-1 series against the Winnipeg Jets.
Hell, they even won the first game of the Cup Final.
Everything was seemingly going to destiny’s plan.
Sure, the bounces didn’t go Vegas’ way in Game 2. And there was ‘The Save’. But no matter, right? The team had gone 3-0 after losing in these playoffs, outscoring opponents 12-7 in those games.
And they were heading to Washington, where the Capitals had only won four of nine games in these playoffs prior to Saturday.
It was a game primed for a bounce back, Vegas’ M.O. this postseason. Instead, the Golden Knights struggled as Washington stepped up their game.
Washington seemed committed to the cause. Alex Ovechkin was blocking shots. Washington moved the puck better, moved their feet faster and throttled the Golden Knights in the neutral zone and clogged up all the lanes in their own zone.
The Capitals’ buy-in was tremendous and this stymied one of the quickest teams in the playoffs. Vegas wasn’t able to bounce back after getting scored on, something they’ve been able to rely on with reasonable probability. The pressure the Capitals put on them continued and continued. And then the final buzzer sounded at Capital One Arena.
There weren’t many positives for the Golden Knights fall back on either. Sure, they scored a goal — but that goal came off an abnormal misplay of the puck from Braden Holtby.
Credit to Vegas, they weren’t leaning on any silver linings after the game. They did produce a few troubling quotes though.
“I feel like we’re a little bit nervous,” Golden Knights forward David Perron told reporters following Game 3. “We don’t make too many plays out there right now. It’s not something we’ve done.”
Perhaps the magnitude of the moment is setting in?
“I think at times maybe a bounce or two isn’t going our way, so we’re overthinking it and overcomplicating it for ourselves,” Alex Tuch added.
This is uncharted territory for a team that has taken the path of least resistance to get to this point.
The goals aren’t coming like they used to and pucks are going past Marc-Andre Fleury in ways Vegas isn’t used to seeing.
Fleury’s save percentage has nosedived in this series. He waltzed into the Cup Final saving 95 percent of the shots he’s faced. That number has taken a near-10 percent hit through three games.
Game 1: .857
Game 2: .885
Game 3: .885
This is troubling given that the Golden Knights are giving up the least number of shots in this series, on average, than in any of their previous ones, including 5.5 shots less than they did against the Jets in the last round.
Vegas isn’t on the ropes, yet. They can reverse this whole narrative with a Game 4 win on Monday night.
But to do so, they have to scheme against a team that is simply out-scheming them at the moment.
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub