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Golden Knights in unfamiliar territory after Game 3 loss to Capitals

Facing adversity for first time in playoffs following second straight defeat in Cup Final

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

WASHINGTON -- This is not what we're used to seeing from the Vegas Golden Knights. This is not what we're used to hearing from them, either.

Listen to how they described themselves after they lost Game 3 3-1 to the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on Saturday and fell behind 2-1 in the Stanley Cup Final:


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"A little bit slow."

"A little late."

"A little bit nervous."

"A little bit timid."

"Overthinking it."

"Overcomplicating it."

"Not good enough."


The Golden Knights are in trouble entering Game 4 here on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

Video: VGK@WSH, Gm3: Gallant on competitiveness of Game 3

At their best, they use their strengths: depth and speed. They roll four lines and three pairs, putting pressure on opponents by being relentless all over the ice, transitioning quickly and sustaining a forecheck. They make plays.

They have not done that against the Capitals for three games now.

Maybe you can write off Game 1. The Golden Knights hadn't played for eight days. It was a crazy, seesaw game, and they found a way to win 6-4 at T-Mobile Arena. At that point, they were 13-3 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including 7-1 at home, on an epic, historic run.

You cannot write off Games 2 and 3. After a 3-2 loss in Game 2, the Golden Knights used the same word over and over: simplify. They said they had to cut down on turnovers and play a more direct game. 

Obviously it's not that simple against the Capitals.

Defenseman Shea Theodore had a particularly poor Game 3, with turnovers that led to the second and third Washington goals. But he was far from the only issue.

When the Golden Knights tried to skate or pass into the offensive zone, the Capitals got in their way. When the Golden Knights tried to chip the puck past them and get in on the forecheck, the Capitals broke out efficiently and went on the attack. Vegas' fourth line was the only one to sustain much pressure.

Video: How the Golden Knights struggled in Game 3

When the Golden Knights tried to put the puck on net, the Capitals got in lanes. Washington blocked 26 shots.

"It's just not enough speed for us through the neutral zone," forward James Neal said. "We're just kind of waiting around. It's tough. It's tight out there. But I think once we get it, we've got to have some poise with the puck.

"We've got to make the right plays. We've got to make it easier on each other. I thought once we make a play, we're rushing the next one. We've got to have some poise, settle down a little bit and get back what's made us successful. We just haven't got there.

"That's them doing a good job, for sure."

The Golden Knights have been outplayed for stretches within games in these playoffs. They had been able to adjust and get back to their game relatively quickly until now, and it seems like the longer they go without doing it, the worse they become.

"I think at times maybe a bounce or two isn't going our way, so we're overthinking it and overcomplicating it for ourselves," forward Alex Tuch said. "We play our best when we're playing simple. We're moving pucks. We're reloading. We're backchecking. We're forechecking hard. We're making the other team make mistakes. That wasn't the case.

"I think we're a little late -- late to pucks, late to the forecheck. We're not forechecking as a five-man unit, and we've just got to fix that."

Frankly, the Golden Knights look and sound rattled for the first time in … ever?

"I feel like we're a little bit nervous," forward David Perron said. "We don't make too many plays out there right now. It's not something we've done."

Video: Hradek and Melrose on Capitals' Game 3 win

Asked why the Golden Knights would be nervous now, Perron said: "Not sure. Again, we have to find a way. Whether it's nervousness or something else, it's normal. It's a big stage right now, and it's not easy for guys. Everyone's battling hard doing what they want to do, but we have to find another level to beat these guys."

Perron tried to shift the narrative. 

"We're still underdogs against them," he said. "I think they're a great team over there. Now the pressure's on them to keep going. We're going to find a way to answer."

But here's the thing:

The Golden Knights are not "still" the underdogs. They weren't underdogs entering this series even though they were an expansion team. But they are underdogs now the way it's going.

The pressure isn't on the Capitals. At least it's not only on them. The Golden Knights had no expectations entering the season, but they raised them with the way they played in the regular season and the first three rounds of the playoffs. They gave themselves an opportunity to end this season -- magical, no matter what -- with a championship. There is pressure on them to keep it from slipping away.


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