The Vegas Golden Knights have never doubted their ability to hang with, slow down and eventually defeat the Colorado Avalanche.
Their confidence didn’t wane after losing 7-1 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Second Round on Monday. Their belief grew in Game 2 at Ball Arena in Denver on Wednesday despite losing 3-2 in overtime to fall behind 2-0 in the best-of-7 series.
“After Game 1, we were out to prove that we can play with this team and I think we did that tonight,” Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said. “We’ve got to come out in Game 3 and do the same thing. One game at a time. This series is a long way from over.”
Game 3 is at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Friday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“Now we go home to 18,000 fans,” Vegas captain Mark Stone said. “Take care of home ice and we’ll come back here for Game 5 tied up.
“You can’t stress too much until you lose at home.”
This isn’t lip service from DeBoer and Stone. It’s not the coach and the team captain trying to build up the boys after a tough loss that could have them wondering if they have what it takes.
It’s not defiance or ignorance either. It’s 100 percent belief, fueled by how they played in Game 2.
“I thought we deserved better,” DeBoer said.
They did not in Game 1, but they arrived 48 hours after playing Game 7 of first round against the Minnesota Wild. They traveled in that 48-hour window. The Avalanche were sitting and waiting, pumped to get going again after sweeping the St. Louis Blues in the first round and having seven days off.
It was a recipe for disaster for Vegas.
“We all knew that wasn’t us, that wasn’t our game for Game 1 there,” said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who didn’t play in Game 1.
Fleury, a Vezina Trophy finalist this season, was back in net for Game 2. The Golden Knights were back too, but not before a rough first period in which the Avalanche had four power-play opportunities and scored on one of them to fall behind 2-1 after the first period.
“We didn’t have a great start to the game, but really took over the game as it went on,” Stone said.
The Golden Knights outshot the Avalanche 32-14 after the first. They slowed them down in the neutral zone, forcing dump-ins instead of allowing them to skate the puck through with speed.
Vegas had three shots hit the post in the third period.
“I thought we worried about our game a little bit more than worried about them,” Stone said. “We just came out and played really solid.”
They just couldn’t get the extra goal in regulation to avoid what happened in overtime, a slashing penalty on forward Reilly Smith that the Golden Knights didn’t agree with that led to Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen‘s overtime power-play goal at 2:07.
Smith slashed Rantanen’s stick out of his hands.
“It’s a situation (that) there has to be onus on the guy holding the stick,” Stone said. “It’s a stick battle, you’re both trying to fight for the puck and clear space. But we’ve got to kill the penalty when they call it.”
It was a bitter end but it didn’t stop the Golden Knights from thinking they’re right in this series, that coming back from trailing 2-0 is not insurmountable even if the team they’re playing is undefeated in the playoffs (6-0) and won the Presidents’ Trophy for having the best record in the regular season.
“I’m sure a lot of guys on our team have been there before; I’ve been there, down 2-0, but it doesn’t matter,” Fleury said. “If we keep playing the way we did tonight then we all have confidence in our team that we can come back in this series.”