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Three straight one-goal decisions in their first-ever playoff series have the Vegas Golden Knights in position of advancing to the second round.
A number the Golden Knights don’t want to consider is five as they look to eliminate the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night at Staples Center.
Only four NHL teams have squandered 3-0 leads in a best-of-seven playoff series: the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs; the 1975 New York Islanders; the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers — and the Kings, who defeated the San Jose Sharks in the opening round and eventually went on to defeat the New York Rangers for their second Stanley Cup.
That’s why Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb is not ready to call this series over heading into Game 4.
It's do or die time. #GoKingsGo
— LA Kings (@LAKings) April 17, 2018
“They’re a confident group, still. They believe in there, for sure,” he said of the Kings. “We can’t deviate from what we need to do.”
Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty is also sticking to the one-game-at-a-time mantra.
“We’ve done it before, but I don’t think we’re looking that far ahead,” he told the Kings’ official website. “Obviously we’ve got to win that series, but we’re not looking at it in that sort of way. We’ve just got to win one game right now.”
Vegas is on the brink of sweeping after scoring three third-period goals en route to a 3-2 victory in Game 3 on Sunday night. Cody Eakin tied the score, 1-1, early in the frame before Neal and William Karlsson scored 21 seconds apart with just under six minutes to play.
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant credits a veteran core with deep playoff experience to keep the team on an even keel.
“A lot of these guys have been there before,” he said. “Deryk Engelland, James Neal, (Marc-Andre) Fleury, they talk to the players about being composed.”
According to the league’s official website, the Golden Knights are the third team to win their first three playoff games, joining the 1996 Florida Panthers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who won four straight in 1970.
Unlike Vegas, the Panthers and Penguins did so in their third seasons. And, again, Gallant’s laid-back demeanor comes through.
“My message all year long … we worry about the next game,” he said. “I don’t worry about what’s happened in the past. ”
If Los Angeles is to extend the series, it needs contributions from their top players. The Kings have managed three goals in the series — one from center Anze Kopitar (career-high 35 regular-season goals) and none from wingers Dustin Brown (28 goals) and Tyler Toffoli (24).
Toffoli, who’s taken a team-high 14 shots in the series, knows what he must do.
“I had a lot of opportunities in front of the net and around the net, and I’ve just got to get pucks up and be able to find a way to score,” he said. “I’ve had plenty of opportunities to score. I’ve just got to be able to finish.”
In just about any other series, the Kings’ Jonathan Quick would be praised for his 1.69 goals-against average through three games. Fleury, though, has logged an 0.84 GAA.
“It’s going to be hard to finish this series out. Every game’s been really tight. It’s going to be a battle,” McNabb said.
Game 5, if necessary, is scheduled for Thursday night in Las Vegas.