The phrase suited the mayhem of the first three rounds, when the Golden Knights stampeded through the Western Conference bracket, clobbering two inferior teams in San Jose and Los Angeles and a third, Winnipeg, which was exhausted from a bruising seven-game series against Nashville. But with home-ice advantage, the impossible looked possible in the Stanley Cup finals – even more so after Game 1 on Monday, a sloppy 6-4 affair that still showcased Vegas at its opportunistic best.
In this season of firsts, Vegas now confronts a situation unlike any other it has faced this postseason, more imposing than when it split the first two against the Sharks and Jets and then won Game 3.
Unlike in years past, Washington will not shrivel. Already in these playoffs they lost the first two games against Columbus and the opener against Pittsburgh, and staved off elimination twice against Tampa Bay in the conference finals. They absorbed the injury-related absences of Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky and Tom Wilson, and might have to contend without Kuznetsov. Trotz, when asked, declined to offer an update.
Liberated from expectations, the Capitals are better equipped to rebound from losses, from injuries, and emerge better, stronger. They overcame a 1-0 deficit on Wednesday – Vegas had won 10 of 11 playoff games when scoring first – by dictating play, clogging the neutral zone, forcing giveaways and exploiting space in the Vegas zone.
“I think we were trying to be a little bit too fancy at times, and that’s not our game,” said Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore, who drew the Golden Knights to within 3-2 on a power-play goal with 2:13 left in the second. “We really need to simplify things.”
The team that General Manager George McPhee assembled in the first expansion draft of the salary-cap era capitalized on underappreciated assets, onerous contracts and what he called “unknown surprises” – players who would develop into mainstays.
Discussing Vegas’s success on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” Keith Olbermann made a keen observation on Tuesday when he noted that many of the Golden Knights are second- and third-liners, which helps Vegas match up well against opponents’ second lines and gives it a theoretical advantage against their third and fourth lines.