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Stanley Cup Final

Golden Knights still believe impossible is possible in Cup Final

Trail Capitals 3-1 but point to two four-game winning streaks in playoffs

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

LAS VEGAS -- The words have been projected onto the ice at T-Mobile Arena before games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They were printed on the rally towels before Game 1 of the Cup Final.

"WELCOME TO IMPOSSIBLE."

An NHL expansion franchise wasn't supposed to succeed in Las Vegas. One has. The Vegas Golden Knights weren't supposed to make the playoffs in their inaugural season, let alone win three rounds. They have.

 

[RELATED: Golden Knights could make lineup changes for Game 5 | Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

It is a point of pride. When the scoreboard quotes naysayers and the emcee shouts about doubters in the pregame circus, it riles up the sellout crowd.

Now the Golden Knights aren't supposed to win again, trailing the Washington Capitals 3-1 in the best-of-7 series entering Game 5 here Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

Welcome back.

"Back to where we were," forward Alex Tuch said. "It's no one believing in you. You've just got to believe in each other, believe in yourself. You've got to know you can do it."

Video: Shane Hnidy previews Game 5 for the Golden Knights

Asked if the Golden Knights were doubted more now or before the season, defenseman Nate Schmidt paused to think for a moment, then said, "Equal."

"Stuff that we've done this year had never been done," forward Jonathan Marchessault said. "So that's the thinking that we have."

There are plenty of reasons to think the Golden Knights won't defeat the Capitals. They must win three games in a row after losing three in a row, outscored 12-5. They have struggled with and without the puck, committing turnovers, failing to forecheck, missing chances, breaking down defensively and taking penalties. They haven't had puck luck either.

Teams trailing 3-1 in a best-of-7 Final have a series record of 1-32 and have lost 31 straight. The lone winners were the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, who came back from 3-0 against the Detroit Red Wings, and there were extenuating circumstances. Red Wings coach Jack Adams assaulted the referee after Game 4 and was suspended the rest of the series.

Although coming back is unlikely, it's not impossible. Teams have done it more often in the playoffs since the introduction of the NHL salary cap. Ninety-six teams have trailed 3-1 in a series since the start of the 2006 playoffs. Twenty of them have forced a Game 7. Eight have won the series. In other words, series in this situation have gone to a Game 7 20.8 percent of the time, and the team trailing 3-1 has won 8.3 percent of the time.

A team came back from 3-1 and forced a Game 7 in these playoffs: the Toronto Maple Leafs, who ended up losing to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference First Round. The last team to blow a 3-1 lead and lose a series?

Washington.

The Capitals did it against the New York Rangers in the second round in 2015. They had many of the same players: Nicklas Backstrom, Jay Beagle, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. Maybe they're a different team now, but they have to win one more game to prove it.

The Golden Knights have won four straight, not just three, against the same team twice in the playoffs. They did it when they swept the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference First Round, and they did it again when they lost Game 1 to the Winnipeg Jets in the conference final and won the series in five.

"It shows you can do it," coach Gerard Gallant said. "We've done it against good hockey teams. So you play our game, you get some breaks, and you keep working hard. Hopefully it turns for us."

Video: Discussing the Golden Knights' missed opportunities

Tuch said: "I think we proved a lot of people wrong. We've been a really resilient group. Even if we've hit a little bit of a slump, it's something where we come out of it even stronger. We've been able to win three games in a row in a series, actually four, twice. So I think we can do it to Washington."

The formula is simple: Win one game, and do it three times. If the Golden Knights win Game 5 at home, the pressure will be on the Capitals to close out the series in Game 6 at Capital One Arena in Washington, because they won't want to come back to Vegas for Game 7. If that happens, the Golden Knights will have momentum and confidence, not to mention the same pregame.

The impossible will seem possible once more.

"This is again back to that situation where people don't believe we can do something," center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. "A lot of people are focusing so much on, 'They are down 3-1. They have to win three games.' I'm pretty sure we won more than one game this season at home, and this is what we have to do tomorrow: We have to win one game."

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