Game 6 between the Golden Knights and the San Jose Sharks proved decisive last season. Sunday could be the same.
Last year the Knights defeated the Sharks 3-0 in Game 6 to advance to the Western Conference Finals. They lead this year’s first-round series 3-2 after losing Game 5 Thursday in San Jose and have a chance to end it at T-Mobile Arena. The game starts at 4 p.m. and will be televised on AT&T SportsNet.
“They played a better game last night,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said Friday. “Let’s see if they can do it in our building. That’s the difference.”
Here are six keys to victory in Game 6 for the Knights:
1. Start fast
Scoring first is always important, but in this series it’s been crucial.
The team scoring the first goal has won the first five games, and there have been no lead changes.
Fortunately for the Knights, starting fast has been their forte against the Sharks. They have scored nine goals in the first five minutes of their nine games against San Jose this season.
2. Rattle Jones
The Sharks go as goaltender Martin Jones goes.
The 29-year-old has a .931 save percentage and 1.10 goals-against average in his team’s two wins and a .796 save percentage and 7.62 goals-against average in its three losses.
If the Knights score an early goal, prevent Jones from getting into a rhythm and possibly get him pulled for the seventh time in 19 appearances against them, it will go a long way toward ending the series.
3. Get the first line going
The Knights’ second line of Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone has done most of the team’s scoring in the series, so the Sharks’ top pair of Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic defended them most of Game 5 and held them without a point.
That means William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith need to take advantage of their matchup 5-on-5. They have a combined 10 points (four for Smith and three apiece for Karlsson and Marchessault) in the series, but six of those came on the power play.
The group has a strong history against the Sharks, with a combined 57 points in the first 14 games between the teams, but they need to carry that over to Sunday.
4. Win special teams battle
The effect of special teams has been massive in the series — just not in the way that was expected.
The Knights, who finished the regular season with the 25th-best power play, are scoring 33 percent of the time with the man advantage. They have at least one power-play goal in every game, and they have scored two power-play goals in each of the past three.
The Sharks, who had the sixth-best power play, are struggling. They’ve converted 4 out of 23 chances (17.39 percent), and their penalty kill has been porous. If they don’t clean it up, it could be their undoing.
5. Keep hustling
Brayden McNabb, a defenseman, has made two saves for the Knights in the series.
McNabb made a kick save on the penalty kill in Game 2 and dived across the crease to stop a puck in Game 5. That’s the kind of effort needed to win playoff games, and the Knights have risen to the challenge.
They have 28 more blocked shots than the Sharks (101-73) and four more hits (204-200). If they keep that up, they will be tough to beat.
6. Use home crowd
The Knights never have clinched a playoff series at T-Mobile, so even on Easter Sunday, their crowd should be raucous.
They’ve used home ice to their advantage, too. The Knights have outscored the Sharks 11-3 at home in the series and 42-19 in their two-year history.
San Jose’s two wins in nine games in Las Vegas were a 4-3 double overtime playoff victory last season and a 3-2 triumph Jan. 10. Nothing has come easy for the Sharks at T-Mobile.
Game 1: Sharks 5, Golden Knights 2
Game 2: Golden Knights 5, Sharks 3
Game 3: Golden Knights 6, Sharks 3
Game 4: Golden Knights 5, Sharks 0
Game 5: Sharks 5, Golden Knights 2
Sunday: at Golden Knights, 4 p.m., AT&T SportsNet
x-Tuesday: at San Jose, TBA, AT&T SportsNet