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Golden Knights try to save season in Game 6 against Canadiens

Updated June 23, 2021 - 6:34 pm

There will be a celebration Thursday in Quebec and throughout Canada for Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, the summertime holiday that honors French-Canadian culture.

With the Canadiens one victory from their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final since 1993, there could be another reason to party in Montreal.

It’s up to the Golden Knights to extend the best-of-seven semifinal series and avoid falling short of expectations for the second postseason in a row when they meet Montreal in Game 6 at Bell Centre.

“I think we have a lot of confidence,” Knights alternate captain Reilly Smith said Wednesday. “It’s a do-or-die game, and we’re excited about the challenge and the opportunity to win this one and go back home for Game 7.”

The Knights, who entered as the biggest series favorites in a Stanley Cup semifinal in 31 years, had plenty of soul-searching to do after falling flat Tuesday in a 4-1 loss in Game 5 that pushed their season to the edge.

Despite spending big in the offseason and tying Colorado for the most points in the NHL during the regular season, the Knights are on the verge of exiting the playoffs at this stage for the second straight year because the offense went dry.

Unlike last season in the Western Conference Final when the Knights outshot Dallas by a plus-48 margin but scored eight goals in the five games, they’re barely getting through the 1-1-3 neutral-zone blockade set up by the Canadiens.

Montreal goalie Carey Price has saved 2.01 goals above average in all situations during the series while facing an average shot distance of 39.82 feet, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

For comparison, Dallas’ Anton Khudobin had 4.57 goals saved above average while dashing the Knights’ hopes last season. Vancouver’s Thatcher Demko stopped a staggering 7.87 goals above average in Games 5 through 7 of the Western Conference semifinal in 2020.

“We know we can play better than we did (Tuesday) night, and it’s on us to come out and roll out our best game,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “We’ve got a group that’s been here before. I don’t think we’re overwhelmed by the position we’re in. We just have to come out and play a good hockey game.”

The Knights haven’t been able to get away with a struggling power play that has failed to score in seven straight games and is 4-for-41 overall.

The top scorers also continue to slump, with defensemen producing almost twice as many goals as forwards (7-4) against the Canadiens. Max Pacioretty’s goal in the third period of Tuesday’s 4-1 loss was the first for the Knights by a top-six forward in the series.

Mark Stone doesn’t have a point in five games and let his frustration affect his defense when he coasted on the backcheck while short-handed and failed to pick up Cole Caufield before the Canadiens’ third goal in Game 5. Jonathan Marchessault and Chandler Stephenson, who missed three games, have one point apiece.

The Game 4 victory was accomplished despite failing to produce a high-danger chance until Nicolas Roy’s overtime goal.

“They’re always around the puck,” Stephenson said. “We had little spurts last game kind of breaking it down, but it’s a tough series. They’ve played really well.”

The Knights appeared to let down emotionally after overcoming Colorado in the West Division final and rolling past the Canadiens in Game 1.

Now, all the pressure is squarely on their shoulders to win two straight games or massive changes could occur this offseason.

“We’ve only won once since Game 1. That’ll frustrate anybody,” DeBoer said. “I’m not sure we’re a victim to anything other than we haven’t won enough and we’re not used to not winning.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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