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Knights in familiar territory with chance to all but bury Stars

It’s starting to feel like deja vu.

The Golden Knights head into Game 3 against the Dallas Stars for the second year in a row with a chance to put a stranglehold on the playoff series.

The situations are a bit different. Last season, the Knights took a 2-0 lead heading to Dallas in the Western Conference Final.

This time, the Knights return home for the next two games — starting with Game 3 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena — with full momentum and a raucous home crowd on the way.

“I think for us, being able to take two there off the start is huge,” left wing Brett Howden said. “Now, we don’t want to look too far ahead. We just want to take it one day at a time. That’s all we thought of while we were down there.”

It’s not like either team has dominated in this series.

The Knights have just made plays at the right time.

They benefited from a three-goal first period in Game 1 and kept the Stars to one goal in the final 40 minutes. Then the Knights relied on their defense after an aggressive start from Dallas in Game 2 and played a patient game that paid off in a 3-1 win.

It’s almost similar to last postseason.

The Knights escaped with the first two wins of the conference final with consecutive overtime victories that each ended in less than two minutes.

It was an even series despite the result, but the Knights found themselves up 3-0 after Game 3 at American Airlines Center before losing the next two and closing it out in Game 6.

They find themselves with another opportunity to win the first three games and put the top-seeded Stars on the brink of elimination.

“I think we have players that rise up in those situations,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We saw it last year through four different series. I thought we got progressively better. When they’re this close, it could easily swing the other way.”

The challenge for the Knights becomes bottling the emotion that comes with playing in front of the home crowd.

T-Mobile Arena was voted the toughest place to play for opposing teams in this year’s NHL Players’ Association poll.

It’s more daunting in the playoffs. The Knights at 31-15 at home since their inception.

The Knights had a strong defensive effort in Game 2. Dallas had a 30-16 edge in scoring chances at five-on-five, but 17 came in the final two periods. It was the same with high-danger chances — a 12-9 edge for the Stars, but seven total in the last 40 minutes.

That defense-first mentality will need to be maintained heading into a charged-up environment.

“Puck management, the risk vs. reward plays, those can’t change at home just because you’re in front of the crowd and you want to sort of make prettier plays,” Cassidy said. “If they’re there, you make them. If not, don’t.

“That’s what typically happens to home teams. You feel a little better, you’re at home, and you’re going to want to make plays than just make the ones that are necessary and the ones that are available.”

The Knights channeled that emotion well last postseason by going 9-3 at home.

The fact remains they are the eighth seed. Opportunities to put a top seed away in emphatic fashion don’t come around often.

Even if it does feel like deja vu right now.

“I think going into this game, we don’t want to overthink everything,” Howden said. “We want to keep doing what we’re doing because when we’re playing to our structure and we’re playing how we know we can play, confidently and aggressively at the right times, I feel like we’re pretty hard to beat.”

Contact Danny Webster at dwebster@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DannyWebster21 on X.

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