In Game 2 against the Wild, the Golden Knights avoided falling to 0-2, which would have been the first time in franchise history they’d have been in such a hole.
The series is 1-1, and Minnesota, historically excellent on home ice against the Vegas, has taken the advantage. Thursday night is only a Game 3 (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN), but it sure feels like the Golden Knights can’t afford to give away any other advantages.
Vegas has won five playoff series and have a Stanley Cup Final appearance to their resume in just four NHL seasons. The Wild has never seen a run with as much success, but given their lofty numbers against the Golden Knights historically — 11-2-2 at Xcel Energy Center — they might have a window.
“We’re not proving anything to ourselves,” Wild defenseman Matt Dumba said after Game 2. “We know the level that we can play at. It’s more you guys, the media, putting us as underdogs. You’re going to see a totally different team at home. We’re a different beast.”
Of course, going down 2-1 in a series, if Vegas were to do so, is no series death sentence; teams come back all the time. This series feels different, though. Minnesota has had a distinct advantage on home ice, and giving them an inch seems like a worst case scenario.
The Wild have been a popular dark horse pick to pull off the upset, and that was only invigorated by their thrilling 1-0 overtime victory in Game 1 victory. That the Wild could shut down an offensive powerhouse like the Golden Knights — even while leading scorer Max Pacioretty remains out — was impressive.
The Golden Knights found their game in Game 2, with Marc-Andre Fleury continuing his Vezina-like season frustrating Wild shooters. It looked a lot more like the near-Presidents’ Trophy Vegas team that competed all season.
Minnesota has found a key to limiting the Vegas offense in turn, though, too; blocked shots.
In the Game 1 win, the Wild blocked 23 shots. In defeat, they stopped 26 before reaching goalie Cam Talbot.
“To ask the guys to be diving and sticking their noses in front of a puck in Game 35, some guys do, some guys don’t,” said head coach Dean Evason. “Everyone does at this time of the year. I don’t think any coach has to harp on it. It’s the desperation and commitment that they have in the games and to each other.”
Whoever wins Game 3 has a chance to set the tone for the rest of the series. Pressure is on a Golden Knights squad that wasn’t able to generate wins in Minnesota all season. Some of their more unpleasant memories come at that arena. Towards the end of the regular season, they took a loss by allowing two goals in 26 seconds after leading 5-4.
That loss may be what cost them the Presidents’ Trophy — and a simpler First Round series with the Blues. Instead, they almost have to take Game 3 to prevent snowballing. Their worst case scenario might be facing up two more Wild home games, and potentially facing elimination at their toughest rink.
“The ball’s in our court now, and we have to go home and play the same type of game,” said Ryan Suter. “[We] can’t get away from the style we’ve played all year. We’ve created a lot off that style, and we have to go home and do the same thing.”
GOLDEN KNIGHTS VS. WILD (Series tied 1-1) – series livestream link
Game 1: Wild 1, Golden Knights 0 (OT)
Game 2: Golden Knights 3, Wild 1
Thursday, May 20: Golden Knights at Wild, 9:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Saturday, May 22: Golden Knights at Wild, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Monday, May 24: Wild at Golden Knights TBD
*Wednesday, May 26: Golden Knights at Wild TBD
*Friday, May 28: Golden Knights TBD