LOS ANGELES — The Golden Knights’ three victories have each come by a margin of one goal. And depth has proved the razor-thin difference each time.
So far, the Golden Knights’ third and fourth lines are outplaying the Los Angeles Kings — a big reason the Knights are in a 3-0 position and looking to clinch the Western Conference opening-round series Tuesday in Game 4 at Staples Center.
Whether it’s the third line of Cody Eakin, Ryan Carpenter and recently added David Perron, or the fourth unit of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Will Carrier and Tomas Nosek, the Knights’ bottom-six forwards are outskating and outworking the Kings’ third line of Adrian Kempe, Tobias Rieder and Trevor Lewis and the fourth line of Nate Thompson, Kyle Clifford and Torey Mitchell.
“Honestly, we’ve been playing the same way all year,” Bellemare said. “We’re skating. We’re forechecking. We’re finishing off our checks and coming back in our zone to support the D. It’s nothing new to us. We haven’t changed.”
Carpenter, who made a nice pass to Eakin to set up the game-tying goal in Game 3, said the line is trying to win the battles for loose pucks, maintain possession and continue the momentum for the next line over the boards.
“We’re always trying to keep things simple,” Carpenter said. “I think when you’re in the playoffs and everything is magnified and one mistake can cost you, you don’t want to take too many risks. We’re doing a good job as a team in not making big mistakes.”
Carrier, who has been a target of the Kings after he set the tone in Game 1 with some heavy yet clean checks, said he, Bellemare and Nosek want to make sure they play responsibly at both ends.
“If we can make something happen offensively, that’s great,” he said. “But our first job is to shut down the other team’s line and make sure they don’t score.”
A big part of that is puck possession, which starts with faceoffs. Eakin is 14-13 on faceoffs through three games while Bellemare is 18-18. That includes faceoffs during penalty kills, where the Knights have allowed just one power-play goal in 11 opportunities.
And in what has been a physical series, the Knights’ bottom-six forwards hold a 68-62 edge in hits through three games.
Offense has come at a premium in this series for both teams. Through three games, the Knights have six goals with Eakin having one and Perron, Carpenter and Nosek having picked up assists. But the Kings have just three goals; none of the Knights’ bottom-six forwards have been on the ice for the two even-strength goals scored by L.A.
“They’ve been terrific,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said of his third and fourth lines. “I felt bad we couldn’t play the fourth line more (Sunday) because of all the penalties. But we’ve been rolling four lines all year and it has been a big part of our success. I’m not afraid to play them against anybody.”