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Vegas Golden Knights center Jack Eichel (9) is shown during the third period of Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars at T-Mobile Arena Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Las Vegas.

Callbacks to past Golden Knights’ playoff experiences have been constant during the team’s current postseason run. They’ve included both positive characteristics that have carried over from the franchise’s first four appearances and formerly negative moments that they’ve overcome this year.

The Golden Knights’ innate ability to immediately answer an opponents’ big goal with one of their own, a hallmark of the still-benchmark Season 1 team that reached the Stanley Cup Final, is back. The “comeback kid” mentality proved critical in series victories over both Winnipeg and Edmonton.

Then, in Game 5 against the Oilers, the Golden Knights seemed to exorcise the five-minute major demon that cursed them in Season 2.

Now comes what in a way feels like the final boss — Vegas playing up to expectation and beating a team it’s supposed to in a series to reach the Stanley Cup Final. Offensive outages as a heavy semifinal favorite doomed Seasons 3 and 4 with the 2020 Dallas Stars and 2021 Montreal Canadiens both shocking Vegas and sending it home earlier than anticipated.

It’s too early to say the Golden Knights have definitively cleared the old obstacle this time around, but they’re in great position to do so with a 2-0 lead over the 2023 Stars going into Game 3 of the team’s best-of-seven series. Puck drop is scheduled for 5 p.m. tonight with ESPN airing the action from American Airlines Arena in Dallas.

“We have the best team we’ve ever had this year,” forward Jonathan Marchessault said Sunday after a 3-2 victory in Game 2 at T-Mobile Arena. “Not only on paper but the way we play, I think, is the biggest thing.”

As the ruler of most of the realm known as the Golden Knights’ record book since being with the team from Day 1, Marchessault would know best. And the 10-year NHL veteran says this year’s Golden Knights have the type of mental toughness and knack for “finding a way” that most teams only ever dream of locking in.

It’s hard to doubt him after Sunday, when the Golden Knights demonstrated so many of those qualities in winning the type of conference final playoff game that has so often gone against them in the past.

An old sense of defeatism from a couple years ago started to slowly creep into the T-Mobile Arena crowd in the middle of Game 2, or maybe everyone was just dozing off. The Golden Knights’ offense didn’t give the home fans much reason for optimism or excitement for the whole second period into the early third, maintaining a 2-1 deficit that felt bigger than it looked.

That’s because Vegas was incapable of spending much time in its offensive zone, let alone getting quality chances off.     

“Obviously it wasn’t our best effort but sometimes you don’t play your best and you find a way to win,” first-line forward Jack Eichel said. “We did that tonight and we’ve just got to stick with it for 60 (minutes). You’re not always going to get bounces. It’s not always going to go your way, but you just keep working and keep hoping you get a bounce, and a few go your way.”

Perhaps that upped resiliency is the difference this year. Or maybe it’s just Eichel himself.

He’s supposed to be the change for Vegas from past postseasons, now that he’s making his playoff debut after the biggest moment of last year’s Season 5 was the franchise’s midseason trade for him with the Buffalo Sabres. The Golden Knights then missed the playoffs for the first time ever, of course, but hope remained that things could be different when they did get back in the bracket with a superstar offensive talent like Eichel.   

Never did that come to fruition more than in Game 2. Right when Vegas desperately needed a big moment from their most talented player, he delivered.

Eichel’s no-look, behind-the-back pass to set up Marchessault with an equalizer late in the third period might be the biggest highlight of Vegas’ playoffs so far. Marchessault ceded almost all credit to Eichel, calling him “an amazing player with great vision.”

Dallas coach Pete DeBoer called it “a world-class pass” and lamented his team’s fate, which was sealed when forward Chandler Stephenson scored off a rebound 72 seconds into overtime, after the game.  

“(For) probably 50 minutes there, we held them to 10 or 15 shots on the net,” DeBoer said. “That was a start.”

In the back of his mind, DeBoer must have been thinking he could have used a few plays like that when he was behind Vegas’ bench for the last two semifinal appearances. There’s a good chance he’s never fired last offseason if Vegas could have found its way out of a bogged-down offense like it did on Sunday in 2020 or 2021.

The logos on this year’s team, and most of its personnel, might still look similar to those groups but the 2023 Golden Knights are different.

They’ve got Eichel. They can work themselves out of offensive ruts. And that gives the Golden Knights a great chance to succeed where their last two playoff versions have failed.

“That’s just the experience we have with guys that have won before,” Stephenson explained the Game 2 victory. “It wasn’t our best game. We weren’t happy with it…but we just had that belief that we weren’t going to lose.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or

Article written by #LasVegasSun

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