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Knights need win with backs against the wall: ‘You rely on experience’

DALLAS — The Dallas Stars played with desperation for three straight games. They’re one win from advancing because of it.

It’s the Golden Knights’ turn to find that level of angst.

How they get there is a question mark. The Knights have been outscored in their first-round series just 14-13. Three games have been decided by one goal, while the other two featured empty-netters in the final 1:22.

The Knights have to find a way to get back on the right side of things after seeing their 2-0 series lead turn into a 3-2 deficit. They need to win Game 6 on Friday at T-Mobile Arena or their Stanley Cup championship defense is over.

“You rely on experience,” defenseman Alec Martinez said. “It’s not the first adversity this team has faced.”

The Knights have recovered from setbacks countless times in the past. But this is the first time they’ve faced elimination under coach Bruce Cassidy.

One of the team’s hallmarks last season was its ability to respond after losses. The Knights were 5-1 in the playoffs following a defeat. They never faced elimination in the postseason and only trailed in a series once: After losing Game 1 to Winnipeg in the first round.

The one time the Knights did suffer back-to-back losses was, ironically, against Dallas in the Western Conference Final.

They were up 3-0 when they lost two straight then. This time is different. The Knights need a win or their season is over.

They’re 2-4 in elimination games all-time.

“To expect to get to a Stanley Cup Final or win a Stanley Cup and to not ever have your back against the wall, I think that’s probably fairly unrealistic,” Martinez said. “This is what the playoffs are all about.”

Neither team has played a perfect game in the series. What has the Stars ahead is they’ve played near-perfect hockey at the right times.

Dallas dominated in Game 3 with 46 shots on goaltender Logan Thompson and won 3-2 in overtime to keep its hopes alive. The Stars then shut the door on the Knights in consecutive third periods in Games 4 and 5 holding a 3-2 lead.

Dallas allowed just six high-danger scoring chances combined at five-on-five those 40 minutes. The Stars kept the Knights to the outside of the offensive zone and limited their rush chances.

“I think we had a couple opportunities to make something happen,” Cassidy said. “We turned down shots, or didn’t get the rebound or didn’t hit the net.”

Cassidy said ultimately the Knights’ problems come down to finishing. They need to find a way to score more against Dallas goaltender Jake Oettinger, who has stepped up the last four games.

Oettinger allowed four goals in Game 1 and has given up eight since. He sealed Dallas’ win in Game 5 with a great right-pad save on center Chandler Stephenson’s breakaway attempt with 2:44 remaining in the third period.

“You look at this series, it’s been a well-goaltended series,” Cassidy said. “I don’t think you can say (Adin Hill on Wednesday), Logan or Oettinger has had a bad game.”

Game 5 was the first time this series the home team won. The Knights must respond with their first home victory of the playoffs Friday if they want to force a Game 7 in Dallas.

“We can’t lose three in a row at home,” defenseman Noah Hanifin said. “It’s been a real tight series. We’ve got to fight. We’ve got to win at home and push it to Game 7 here.”

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

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