Golden Knights see positives in Game 7, despite history

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Peter DeBoer made an interesting comment about Game 7 of the Stanley Cup First Round, considering how the Vegas Golden Knights got here against the Minnesota Wild.

“I think we’ve done a good job so far of pushing this to a one-game opportunity in our home rink, and we’ve got to take advantage of that,” the Vegas coach said Thursday.

A good job? Of pushing this to a one-game opportunity?

Wasn’t Minnesota the team that was behind 3-1 in the best-of-7 series and won two straight to force Game 7 at T-Mobile Arena on Friday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, ATTSN-RM, BSN, BSWI+), not Vegas?

Yes, but DeBoer seems to be using psychological spin.

Much better for the Golden Knights to have the mindset that they worked hard in the regular season to earn the No. 2 seed in the Honda West Division, giving them home-ice advantage against the No. 3 Wild.

Much better for them to have the mindset that they worked hard in the first four games of this series to earn a 3-1 lead, giving them a three-game margin for error they knew they probably would need against a formidable opponent.

“I don’t think I’m saying anything out of line here when I say I don’t think it’s a surprise that this series is going seven games,” DeBoer said. “Coming into it, you’ve got two really evenly matched teams.”

Much better to look at it like that than like this: The Golden Knights are in danger of blowing a 3-1 series lead and losing in the first round for the second time in three years, of earning a reputation for not getting the job done when their only standard of success is the Stanley Cup.

The Golden Knights have not measured themselves as an expansion team since making the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season of 2017-18. From owner Bill Foley down, they have carried themselves as Stanley Cup contenders. They’ve added big-name players and pushed the limits of the NHL salary cap in their quest to win the Cup.

When they blew a 3-1 series lead and lost to the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference First Round in 2019, it was a huge disappointment. They took no consolation in the fact that they had made the playoffs in each of their first two seasons.

A few months later, on Jan. 15, 2020, they hired the former coach of the team that defeated them: DeBoer. His biggest selling point was that he knew how to push the right buttons in the playoffs.

Last season, in DeBoer’s first playoff run with Vegas, the Golden Knights took a 3-1 lead against the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference Second Round, lost two straight and faced a Game 7. They survived and made the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars.

But they had struggled to score late in the Vancouver series, and that carried over to the conference final, which Vegas lost in five games. The Golden Knights scored 12 goals in their last eight games despite outshooting the opposition 293-172.

Again, huge disappointment. They took no consolation in the fact that they had made the playoffs in each of their first three seasons and returned to the conference final.

“We all feel like this is a wasted opportunity,” forward Reilly Smith said then.

How will they feel if they fall short again, especially if they blow a 3-1 series lead and lose in the first round again? They are 2-8 in their last 10 closeout games and never have clinched a series at home.

The Golden Knights drew a tough matchup in the Wild, who went 5-1-2 against them in the regular season. Like the Canucks and Stars did in the playoffs last season, the Wild have had success by keeping the Golden Knights to the outside, blocking shots and allowing their goalie to see most of the shots that get through.

It hasn’t helped the Golden Knights that forward Max Pacioretty, who led them with 24 goals in the regular season, hasn’t played in the series because of an undisclosed injury and remains classified as a game-time decision by DeBoer.

“I think the Wild had a great season, and they’ve built their identity off being hard to play against and not giving up much,” DeBoer said. “They’ve carried that into the playoffs, and it’s hard to crack, and we can’t get frustrated by that.”

DeBoer is 5-0 in Game 7. He was hired to push buttons at times like this, and he’s pushing them now.

Asked what he had learned from his Game 7 experience, he said: “I think when you look back, just not to overreact to the situation. It doesn’t matter how you got here. You’ve got one game in order to advance and you’ve got to find a way to make that your best game for 60 minutes, whatever that looks like.

“And fatigue and injuries and those type of things come into play. But when it comes down to one game like that, I think you’ve got to rely on the foundation you’ve built all year, and we’ve got a pretty good one.”

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