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Zach Whitecloud defended by Golden Knights after OT penalty

A penalty call proved pivotal in the Golden Knights’ elimination from the NHL playoffs for the second straight season Monday in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.

And for the second straight year, the Knights were quick to defend the player on the receiving end.

Rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud was called for delay of game 2:15 into overtime, and the Dallas Stars won the game, 3-2, and the series on the subsequent power play.

But the Knights didn’t place any blame on Whitecloud, who joined the team late in the season and became a crucial player.

“I just feel terrible for the kid,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “It’s such a (expletive) penalty to begin with. Not on him. For that type of penalty to decide a game just doesn’t make sense to me. For him, he’s got nothing to hang his head about. He’s played … big and played heavy and played big minutes for us. He’s got a bright future ahead of him here.”

Whitecloud was taken to the penalty box after the puck deflected off his stick and out of play in his defensive zone. It was the correct call, according to NHL rule 63.2, but the spirit of the rule is to prevent defenders from tossing the puck out of play for an easy whistle.

It was a tough break for a 23-year-old who endeared himself to his teammates and coaches with his toughness and work ethic. Whitecloud quickly became a regular after getting called up in February and played in every postseason game.

He led the team in average time on ice short-handed (3:20) in the playoffs and was second in blocked shots (45). He also scored his first two NHL goals.

“He’s been a great player, a standout player for us in these playoffs,” right wing Reilly Smith said. “Things like that happen, and they happen to anyone. It’s just unfortunate it happened to him. Guys are there to support him, and it’s frustrating for him, as it is for all of us, but this game didn’t come down to one play. The onus is on all of us, and we have to do a better job when we’re up 2-0.”

Fast starts don’t hold up

The Knights scored the first goals in Games 4 and 5 after DeBoer made it an emphasis to get ahead early and pull Dallas out of its structure.

The Knights were 10-1 when scoring first in their first 18 games of the playoffs. But Dallas scored two goals in the third period of Game 5 to force overtime before winning the series.

“They outplayed us in the third period,” Smith said. “They were more aggressive than us. You could say we sat back a little bit. They rolled shifts over and kept the momentum going. They started finding rebounds. I don’t think they really outplayed us much throughout the series, but when they did, it seemed that they scored timely goals. That’s just what it came down to.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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