LM Otero / AP
Thursday, May 25, 2023 | 2 a.m.
DALLAS — Walking into the visiting locker room after their Game 3 victory, the Golden Knights kept ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” playing in the background.
The partying and celebration were long over by the time the media walked inside, but the song continued. The catchy lyric, “having the time of your life,” hits as microphones are placed in front of defenseman Nic Hague’s face.
The Golden Knights are dancing, jiving, and certainly having the time of their life. With Game 4 of the Western Conference Final tonight at American Airlines Center (5 p.m., ESPN), as the Golden Knights need one win to return to the Stanley Cup Final, it is a loose locker room exuding confidence.
Perhaps no room — maybe except what’s happening with in Sunrise, Fla., at the moment — possesses no greater conviction. The Florida Panthers finished their sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday night, so the Golden Knights know what awaits them if they get one more win.
“We’re one step closer to where we want to be,” captain Mark Stone said. “We still have one more game to win. We want to have our best game of the series (Thursday) night.”
The Golden Knights lead the best-of-seven series 3-0 after shutting out Dallas 4-0 on Tuesday. Adin Hill’s 34-save shutout was the first these playoffs for a Vegas goalie.
Given how these goaltending performances continue to surprise those near and far, that comes as a shock.
This playoff run, in bunches, has been a surprise to most. To everyone except that locker room.
The Golden Knights are on their second five-game winning streak of the postseason. After Brossoit’s run from Game 2 against Winnipeg to Game 1 against Edmonton, Hill’s stretch since relieving the injured Brossoit — from Game 3 in Edmonton to now — somehow was more impressive.
Before the playoffs began, Marc-Andre Fleury was the only goalie in team history to win five straight games. Two more were added to the list in a month.
The team that used five goalies during the regular season, that has played two goalies wihout a drop of playoff experience coming into this season, is the team that’s 11-3 in the postseason and one win from going back to the Stanley Cup Final.
“Momentum is huge in hockey, especially in the playoffs,” said Hill after improving to 6-1 in the playoffs with a postseason-best .940 save percentage. “I thought our guys did a great job sticking to our game plan (in Game 3). It takes a team effort.”
The Golden Knights have preached the “one game at a time” mantra, and they’ve had to. Between the myriad of injuries in the goaltending department — Robin Lehner before the season, Logan Thompson for the entire second half of the season, and even Hill for the final month-and-a-half of the regular season — Stone’s second back surgery in less than a year, and Jack Eichel missing 16 games to injury, the consistency has remained.
No matter who’s in the lineup, or in net, the Golden Knights have played the same way. That game plan has remained keeping everything to the outside defensively, not allowing dangerous scoring chances in the slot or near the front of the net.
Offensively, Vegas continues to find ways to capitalize on rush chances, create looks with extended possessions in the offensive zone, and players getting to the front of the net for potential rebounds and net-front goals.
Both sides are at their apex right now.
It’s the biggest difference and the message Bruce Cassidy established when he was hired just under a year ago. The Golden Knights bought in immediately and quickly turned away any negative narrative from missing the playoffs last season.
“You never know. You got to get to know them and see how it plays out in the room,” Cassidy said. “You now learn about your players in these kinds of moments. You see experience is coming through for us.”
And now the Golden Knights are on the doorstep, one win away from returning to the Cup Final for the first time since the magical run of 2018. The odds are in Vegas’ favor, and not just in the books.
Dallas will not have captain Jamie Benn due to serving a two-game suspension for cross-checking Stone early in Game 3. Forward Evgenii Dadonov is doubtful with a lower-body injury.
That’s two important forwards and a big unknown staring Dallas in the face. After playing more than two-thirds of Game 3 with 10 forwards, the Stars’ top line of Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson and Joe Pavelski — which hasn’t scored at 5-on-5 since Game 1 — will be relied upon to perform with their season on the line.
The Golden Knights aren’t looking at it from that perspective. They will deal with whomever the Stars put in the lineup and handle business accordingly.
It’s what they’ve done all season, even while having the time of their life. That party can continue with one more win.
“We know anything can happen in a playoff series,” Stone said. “It’s about just staying even-keeled. Control what you can control.”
Golden Knights-Stars, Game 4 (Vegas leads 3-0)
Time: 5 p.m.
Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM
Odds: Golden Knights -106, Stars -110; O/U 5.5 (Westgate SuperBook)