The Vegas Golden Knights battled back for a key overtime win in Game Four against the Canadiens in Montreal on Sunday, and now with home-ice advantage back on their side look to claim a massive victory in Game Five tonight at T-Mobile Arena.
This year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs have presented a challenge unlike any other, as Vegas has played 17 games in 36 days – unheard of in the worst of times pre-pandemic. Because the Golden Knights went seven games against Minnesota and six against Colorado, the team has had only one real day off since the playoffs began. Now they are going deeper into a series against a Montreal team that had the benefit of sweeping its opponent in the last round and resting before this one.
Plus, consider that Vegas has now had to travel back and forth to the Eastern Time Zone, returning home now to Pacific Time.
Does it make a difference?
“There’s no escaping the fact that the time zones and the travel get to you, but both teams are in the same situation,” said head coach Pete DeBoer. “You have to manage it better than the other team. We put a lot of thought into how we travel and when we travel. It’s a great problem to have, to still be playing this time of year.”
DeBoer also says by this time in a series, familiarity with the other team becomes more apparent but the VGK approach stays the same.
“I think that (familiarity) gets dialed in a little more, the detail of what you want to do or fix. I don’t think your mindset changes… we win a game tonight, we put ourselves in a good spot to finish this series off.”
There’s no denying that the games have been incredibly close. Goaltending on both sides is a difference-maker every night. Montreal is as-advertised, a shut-down defensive team that limits scoring chances and capitalizes on mistakes. They took out a Toronto team that had some high-flying goal scorers, and with Winnipeg they never let the Jets get anything in gear offensively.
With Chandler Stephenson a possibility to return tonight the Vegas Golden Knights may get a shot in the arm to its top line. Along with Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty, Stephenson helped form one of the best lines in the NHL this year when they were on. While I would caution against expecting Stephenson to be 100%, just his return to the lineup means balancing out the scoring more across the lines and makes Montreal have to respect his speed on the forecheck.
The other major factor that Vegas has simply not done in this series is win the special teams battle. The VGK do not have a power-play goal since June 6 against the Colorado Avalanche. That’s six straight games without a man-advantage marker. Maybe they’re due. Or overdue.
“The mindset right now is to worry about one game – right now,” said Keegan Kolesar. “We did a good job in battling back and tying this up. Now we just take care of tonight.”