The Vegas Golden Knights got punched in the nose Thursday night. That's what happens in the playoffs when two strong teams collide. How they respond will be a most telling moment for this team.
The Golden Knights missed an opportunity to close out this opening round series falling 5-2 in San Jose to the Sharks.
The home team scored early and often as it would turn out and Vegas never led in the game. The Sharks had 2-0 and 3-1 leads but the Golden Knights were twice able to get with in one goal. Vegas pushed back but the Sharks pushed back harder and eventually won by three goals including one which was scored into an empty net in the fading moments of the third period.
San Jose won more games in the regular season than the Golden Knights and held home ice advantage when the series began. But a split of the first two games in San Jose and then a sweep of the next pair in Vegas gave the Golden Knights a 3-1 series lead prior to Thursday's game.
So, while the Game 5 was disheartening, it still leaves the Golden Knights with an opportunity to end the series on home ice in Vegas on Sunday. For their part, the Sharks now have a mission to force a Game 7 back in their building.
San Jose coach Pete DeBoer said following his team's win on Thursday night that "no one expected this series to be over in four or five games," and he's right.
It took six games for the Golden Knights to extinguish the Sharks last spring in the second round of the postseason and now that same opportunity presents itself almost one year later.
The Golden Knights have yet to play a complete game in this series and Marc-Andre Fleury was less than his usual brilliant self in the last outing.
The trick for Vegas is to finally be their best. To win the puck battles and foot races, to get the elite goaltending they rely on from Fleury and to regain some balance in their attack.
Every game winning goal in this series has been scored by center Paul Stastny 's line. Stastny, Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty each have a winning tally so far. It's time for some timely and impactful offense from other portions of the lineup.
Head coach Gerard Gallant rarely tinkers with his lineup following a win but has options at his disposal should he wish to tweak. He'll have today and tomorrow to mull such a move.
The postseason is about handling adversity and the Golden Knights responded well to a series opening loss by reeling off three straight wins.
Yet, their best game remains out there still unfound.
"We've had flashes," said Pacioretty. "But we haven't put it all together for a full game."
Game 6 in front of a home crowd and with a chance to get through to the next round sounds like the perfect moment for such an occurrence.
See you, Sunday.