AP Photo/John Locher
Tuesday, May 23, 2023 | 2 a.m.
The difference of going on the road up 2-0 in a best-of-seven series, opposed to tied 1-1, is a wide one.
There’s wiggle room for the team that has the lead. Even if that team loses the next two, they’re guaranteed a best-of-three with two games at home.
The Golden Knights are sitting pretty with a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars, with the series moving to Dallas for Game 3 on Tuesday (5 p.m., ESPN). Ignore that it took overtime in Games 1 and 2 at home to win. The fact is they won.
Now, they go on the road — where they were one of the best road teams in the regular season, and have been in the playoffs — with a chance to make a statement at American Airlines Center.
“Getting a 2-0 lead in the series and going into Dallas, we know it’s going to be pretty tough to play there,” forward Ivan Barbashev said. “It’s a tough building to play at.”
Had the Golden Knights not found their second wind in the final minutes of regulation on Sunday, they understand how much different this series could’ve looked.
They already went through it in the first two rounds, splitting the first two games against the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers despite having home-ice advantage. But the momentum of both rounds changed in Game 3.
The Golden Knights survived a three-goal rally in the third period from the Jets and won 5-4 in double overtime. After playing arguably their worst game of the playoffs in Game 2 against Edmonton, Vegas answered with a 5-1 win in Rogers Place.
Including the close-out Game 6 victory in Edmonton, the Golden Knights are 4-1 on the road this postseason. In all but one of those games — the 4-1 loss to Edmonton in Game 4 — they’ve scored at least four goals and scored five three times.
“We use everybody,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We roll four lines, six (defensemen). We’re not chasing matchups, we’re not hiding anybody. We just play.”
Only the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins had more points earned on the road (64) than the Golden Knights (60) during the regular season. The New Jersey Devils also earned 60 of their 112 points away from Prudential Center. Vegas was one of six teams to win more than 26 games on the road.
“When a team goes down 2-0 in a series, they’ll have to give you the best game they can,” Barbashev said. “I think it’s going to be up to us to push back and find the game we want to play as early as possible.”
Game 2 wasn’t a perfect performance. The Golden Knights struggled with the Stars’ defensive adjustments and were held to 10 combined shots on goal through the first two periods.
In the third period, they out-attempted Dallas 26-17 and the turnaround was highlighted by the play of the top line of Barbashev, Jack Eichel and Jonathan Marchessault. The line combined for the tying goal with 2:22 remaining in regulation.
“I don’t think we played that up-tempo game we like to play,” said captain Mark Stone. “Maybe there was a little frustration at times, but I don’t think we got frustrated throughout the game.”
Those kinds of plays will be vital for the Golden Knights on the road, especially when they won’t dictate the matchups. Now that Dallas is at home, coach Pete DeBoer will have the last lineup change for every faceoff.
How Vegas has been successful, despite not having the last change, has been the depth. Cassidy will trust the center depth at his disposal, ranging from Eichel to Teddy Blueger, to handle the matchups tasked in front of them.
“It’s an experienced group that knows the building is going to be loud,” Cassidy said. “You’ve just got to play it and use it to your advantage in the playoffs.”
Golden Knights-Stars, Game 3 (Vegas leads 2-0)
Time: 5 p.m.
Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM
Odds: Stars -145, Golden Knights +125 (Westgate Superbook)