Monday, May 29, 2023 | 2 a.m.
The Golden Knights have entered must-win territory.
Win, and go to the Stanley Cup Final. Lose, and it’s winner-take-all against a coach that has never lost a Game 7.
The Golden Knights are stressing the importance of having a desperate mentality going into Game 6 of the Western Conference Final at 5 p.m. today in Dallas on ESPN. Vegas has a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven-game series, but has dropped the past two games to give the Stars plenty of momentum in returning to their home ice.
No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in the round prior to the Stanley Cup Final in 47 tries all-time. One more loss will put the Golden Knights on the brink of potential history.
“Obviously, when you have teams down, you really have to have a bit of a killer instinct and make sure that you’re making things difficult on them,” forward Reilly Smith said. “I think the last two games, we haven’t done that.”
Dallas coach Pete DeBoer has launched the “why not us?” mentality for his group, and it’s worked. Dallas needed overtime in Game 4 to avoid the sweep, then broke a 2-2 tie on Saturday thanks to two goals in the third period from fourth-line forward Ty Dellandrea.
Part of that desperation includes the Stars turning up the defensive pressure. Vegas had 24 giveaways on Saturday, a bulk of them coming from below the goal line behind their own net.
“They’re a good forechecking team,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We need to clean some of that up and emphasize easier (breakouts). Easier said than done sometimes when you’re under pressure.”
The Golden Knights are trying to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2018, but the conference final memories of yesteryear start to creep in. Vegas lost in five games to Dallas in 2020, then was upset by Montreal the following season in six games.
Cassidy hopes the group that’s been part those playoff disappointments can use that experience to avoid what would be another historic collapse. The magnitude of this one would carry more than the 2019 first-round loss to San Jose when DeBoer was on the Sharks’ bench to watch his team rally from a 3-1 series deficit and win in seven games.
If it were to get to a Game 7 in Vegas on Wednesday, DeBoer is 7-0 all-time in the winner-take-all games.
“It’ll be important next game to get back to the style of play that’s made us so successful in these playoffs,” Smith said.
Cassidy hinted at the possibility of more lineup changes going into Monday. He moved Brett Howden to fourth-line center in place of Teddy Blueger, and Michael Amadio came back to the lineup for the first time since Game 4 of the second round against Edmonton.
Cassidy added the lines may not have led to the Golden Knights getting outworked in the later stages of the game. He liked Amadio’s game because of how strong he was on pucks. The line of Amadio, Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone combined for eight shots on goal.
With going on the road and not having a say in line matchups, Cassidy could look to Nic Roy moving back to his usual fourth-line center role to help facilitate offense for William Carrier and Keegan Kolesar. That could mean Amadio moves back to where he had his best success this season, to the right of Smith and William Karlsson.
“I thought it was a pretty high-pace game to get out there. First few shifts, was just trying to get the timing back,” Amadio said.
The Stars will get a boost in their lineup with the return of captain Jamie Benn after serving a two-game suspension for cross-checking Stone in Game 3. Where he fits into the lineup is an interesting conundrum considering Dallas’ best offensive outings came with Benn’s absence.
Cassidy said the focus remains on what’s happening in the Vegas locker room rather than across the hall. But Benn’s presence should add more momentum for Dallas.
It’s just one more challenge, self-inflicted or not, that the Golden Knights will need to overcome.
“We know if we come up with our best game, we’ll win the game,” Smith said.
Golden Knights-Stars, Game 6 (Vegas leads 3-2)
Time: 5 p.m.
Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM
Odds: Stars -128, Golden Knights +108; O/U 5.5 (Westgate SuperBook)