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Graney: Knights goalie never lost confidence in himself

He never lost confidence. Knew during practice that he still had it.

So when he was inserted into the lineup for Game 5 of this best-of-seven playoff series, Adin Hill had no doubt he would respond.

Has he ever.

The goalie who led the Golden Knights to a Stanley Cup championship last year is back in net, and with his teammates faces a Game 7 against Dallas on Sunday at American Airlines Center.

It was a curious move by coach Bruce Cassidy, replacing Logan Thompson with Hill following four games and the series tied 2-2. It’s not as if Thompson played poorly. He had a .921 save percentage. He was more than fine. More than did his job.

But whether it was something Cassidy saw in Thompson’s play or for other reasons, the 27-year-old Hill was called upon in the most crucial of times. He played well but not great in a 3-2 Game 5 loss and was then terrific Friday.

The Knights beat Dallas 2-0 to force this final game, with Hill recording his third postseason shutout. All have come against the Stars.

“How about a fourth time (in Game 7), Hilly?” coach Bruce Cassidy said after Friday’s win. “That’s what we’re looking for. I’m sure they’ll have something to say about that and have a game plan for him, but you’re not advancing without good goaltending.

“I think you’ve seen that from both sides. It’s one of those series where (goalies) are dictating a lot of the outcomes.”

Tight, tight series

It’s true that Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger has also been up to the task. All of the six previous games — not counting empty-netters — have been decided by one goal.

It has been as close as you can imagine on the scoreboard and the ice. Not a lot of room out there. Not a lot of easy chances.

Hill was a main reason the Knights lifted a Stanley Cup — he was brilliant in the playoffs a year ago — but it would have been difficult to predict the sort of performance he offered Friday given his recent play. Which is why the switch to him raised so many eyebrows.

He missed seven games in early December to injury and another 15 almost immediately after. He also went 5-9 over his final appearances of the regular season. The save percentage over his final 16 games: .875

Just didn’t play all that well. Just didn’t have it most nights. Just wasn’t himself.

That seems to have has changed now.

“He just makes the saves you need to make,” captain Mark Stone said. “When you get extra from your goalie, it brings life and energy to the bench and players in front of him.”

It did Friday, when Hill stole the second period for the Knights with several timely saves. At one point, he stopped three shots in five seconds.

Stay ready

Cassidy’s message to Hill when the series began: That the goalie was still finding his game and Thompson had played well down the stretch. So just stay ready for the opportunity. There was no set plan on who would be in net for so many games.

That he knew Hill had the experience of being in such pressure moments, so they balanced the two goalies and here they are.

“I’m not going to tell you who’s starting Sunday (wink, wink),” Cassidy said. “Logan played four of them, and Adin (is going) to play three. So it’s almost an even split. I’m not surprised it ended up working out this way if the series was going to go the distance.”

Adin Hill never lost confidence. Knew he still had it.

Now, he gets to prove so again in Game 7.

“Kind of a little stretch there (at the end of the regular season) where I struggled on some goals I should have had,” Hill said. “Just kind of staying calm (for Game 7), staying the course and focusing on that next shot.”

There is no bigger moment. No better time to shine.

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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