Jonathan Marchessault and his Golden Knights teammates don’t see a mountain in front of them. Down 3-1 to the Stars in the Western Conference Final, they can no longer afford to just play well but lose. Beginning Monday in Game 5 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream), Vegas must start winning.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves or anything,” said Marchessault. “The playoffs are never over until it’s over. You can’t look it like a big mountain right now. Let’s focus on [Game 5]. We have a lot of scoring chances. We’ve created a lot still. We just can’t find the back of the net.”
The Golden Knights are no strangers to this experience. In the Second Round, they couldn’t solve Thatcher Demko in Games 5 and 6, which allowed the Canucks to get back into the series and force a Game 7. This round, it’s Anton Khudobin who is their main nemesis.
Vegas is winning the possession battle and has more high-danger chances for at even strength through four games, but the Stars goaltender has played his way into the Conn Smythe Trophy discussion. Khudobin has a .965 5-on-5 save percentage in the series and been vital as Dallas has changed from an offensive force earlier in the playoffs into a shutdown defensive unit.
[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
“He’s fronting a lot of pucks. We’re making his life a little easy. We’ve got get more bodies in front,” Marchessault said.
Part of finding a way by Khudobin is getting the top guys involved. Some of Vegas’ bigger offensive stars have been in a rut since their last round series against Vancouver. Marchessault and Reilly Smith haven’t scored in their last 10 games; Max Pacioretty is goalless in his last seven; and Mark Stone has one goal in his last eight games. The chances have been there, but a familiar obstacle is in their away again.
DeBoer is keeping the faith. He did so in the Vancouver series and he has no choice but to right now with their season on the line for at least the next three games — if they even get a chance to play them all.
“The worst thing we can do is analyze this to death and start changing a bunch of things,” DeBoer. “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.”
DeBoer has good reason to be confident. Just a year ago he was on the winning side of a 3-1 series comeback against the Golden Knights while coaching the Sharks. Winning three in a row isn’t impossible, and with the way Vegas has been playing it’s just a matter of the breaks finally going their way.
“All we need is to finish. The effort’s there. We’re creating a lot of really good looks,” DeBoer said. “Their best player, Joe Pavelski, takes a backhander, it rolls up the shaft of the stick and over our goalie’s shoulder. We haven’t gotten any of those and we gotta stick with it until we do.”
No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars (DAL leads 3-1)
Stars 1, Golden Knights 0 (recap)
Golden Knights 3, Stars 0 (recap)
Stars 3, Golden Knights 2 [OT] (recap)
Stars 3, Golden Knights 1 (recap)
Game 5: Monday, Sept. 14, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
*Game 6: Wednesday, Sept. 16, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Game 7: Friday, Sept. 18, 9 p.m. ET – NBCSN
MORE: Full NHL Conference Finals schedule
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.