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Graney: Knights can’t check most important box in Game 4 loss

Maybe it was Antonio Pierce cranking the siren to begin things. Not surprisingly, the Raiders coach nearly broke the thing.

You knew it was going to be a passionate display. He pounded his chest. He screamed. He was on fire.

Or maybe he was just mad at his quarterback situation.

Either way, the Golden Knights responded in kind during the first 20 minutes Monday night.

Just couldn’t sustain things.

The Dallas Stars have home ice advantage back in this best-of-seven series after a 4-2 victory before 18,333 at T-Mobile Arena.

The series is tied 2-2. Game 5 is Wednesday at American Airlines Center in Dallas. And here we go.

Checking boxes

This is what the Knights talked about to a man earlier Monday, how they might rally from a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 3. This sort of beginning. How they would come back from being dominated for most of the first two periods Saturday and then being handled in overtime.

They talked about the start of things. Of coming out with a purpose. About playing with confidence in front of their home fans. Checked all the boxes except the most important one.

“They said it, so back it up, right?” Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said when told of his players’ thoughts. “That’s it in a nutshell. I thought we started well in Game 1. Game 2 we were on our toes but still defended well enough. Game 3 they were just better than us.

“The best way to respond is to start on time in a way that ‘this is how we’re going to play.’ How that plays out, we’ll see, but we need to be involved early.”

They were. Controlled the pace. Smacked most white sweaters that moved. Was by far the more physical side, totaling 21 hits to 11 for the Stars early and 43-20 for the game.

Were far crisper through the neutral zone.

The Knights were just a whole different side, is all.

It was one of those times when they deserved a better fate than 1-1 after those 20 minutes. But that’s what they got.

Stars earned it

It’s also true the Stars didn’t secure the Western Conference’s top seed because they’re a team that would roll over. So it wasn’t a surprise that Dallas — pretty much competing for its playoff lives — rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the second period to lead 3-2 after two.

A third goal at 18:34 of the period — one that bounced off the chest of Ty Dellandrea and past Knights goalie Logan Thompson — gave Dallas a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. A goal that Cassidy said was inexcusable.

Turned the tables, the Stars did. They were outshot 14-7 in the first period and then had a 25-20 advantage entering the third. The Knights actually had a 34-32 edge overall.

Just couldn’t put one past Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger when needed most. Just couldn’t solve him.

“I thought tonight was his best night,” Dallas coach Pete DeBoer said. “Third period, locked it down. I feel like he’s in that zone now.”

Penalties hurt the Knights big-time in the second period, with Alex Pietrangelo and Chandler Stephenson being whistled for infractions behind plays.

Sort of stalled any juice the Knights were trying to build.

The sort of juice they couldn’t muster in the third period, when the Stars iced the game with an empty-net goal at 18:38.

“(Dallas) is solid,” Knights forward William Carrier said. “They’re a good team. We’ve been here in the past. We just need to jump back and bring our ‘A’ game. We’re a pretty tight group of guys and together, and obviously being at home is great.

“Right off the puck drop we should have a little bit of an advantage. They were a desperate team with a little more adrenaline in (Game 3). We just have to play a little better in front of (Thompson) and create some offense.”

They did. They began things just as planned. Checked all the boxes except the most important one.

Dallas got the best of them again.

The series is 2-2, folks. Hold onto your skates.

And get out of the way when Antonio Pierce cranks a siren.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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