Is the curtain beginning to close on the Vegas Golden Knights?

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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.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.