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Graney: Sloppy, undisciplined Knights on verge of elimination

Updated May 2, 2024 - 9:07 am

DALLAS — You can change lines. You can change your goalie. You can shorten your bench.

You can hit the HIGH button on a blender.

But sloppy won’t do in a Stanley Cup playoff series this tight. It’s a major reason the Golden Knights are on the verge of elimination.

The team that took so much pride in not taking penalties is killing itself by doing just that.

By not having composure. By being frustrated and undisciplined. By being let down by team leaders.

The Knights fell to Dallas 3-2 on Wednesday night before a sold-out American Airlines Center.

The Stars now lead the best-of-seven 3-2. It means a win-or-go-home scenario faces the Knights on Friday evening at T-Mobile Arena for Game 6. It means the defending Stanley Cup champion is 60 minutes from being bounced by its skates in the first round.

What a strange day. It began with Knights coach Bruce Cassidy changing all sort of things across his four lines and defensive pairs, of moving people up and down and out.

It began with him surprisingly inserting Adin Hill in net over Logan Thompson, who over the first four games had been one the best goalies statistically throughout these playoffs.

Hill didn’t lose the game for the Knights. He was OK. A little slow to react at times. It was other factors, including the Knights for a second straight game needing a goal over the final 20 minutes to tie things and not delivering. Couldn’t finish.

Lack of confidence

You can’t for a second believe Cassidy was all that positive or believing in his group to make such alterations to his lineup in what was a tied series. He might like the depth of his roster. It’s a main reason the Knights won a championship last season but changing all but one of his forward lines and defensive pairings and his goalie screamed about a lack of confidence in what the Knights had previously offered.

You don’t do these things knotted up at 2-2 and be content or comfortable with what you have seen to that point.

“At the end of the day, I’d have to look at it closer,” Cassidy said. “But we didn’t win, and when you do something, you’re always going to look in the mirror and wonder if it was the right thing to do.”

It wasn’t the right thing for Alex Pietrangelo. Yet again.

The team’s top defenseman for a second straight game took a bad penalty out of frustration that led to a power-play goal for Dallas. He was called for roughing on center Tyler Seguin that was originally whistled as a five-minute major before being reviewed and reduced.

Pietrangelo should know better. He’s a former captain and a two-time Stanley Cup champion. You have to channel such things and have controlled aggression. The margin, as Cassidy said afterward, it too thin right now.

“He’s a leader on this team,” defenseman Alec Martinez said of Pietrangelo. “Playoffs are an emotional time, and it’s a revved-up environment. You can’t win without emotion, either.”

It was one of four minor penalties the Knights took two of which the Stars cashed in for goals. The other came when William Carrier went off for tripping at 6:33 of the first period.

Hang their hat

“We’ll hang our hat on the fact we’re the defending Stanley Cup champion,” Cassidy said. “So there is a lot of resolve in that room. There are a lot of winners in that room. There is a lot of pride in that room.

“We have to go home and win one game in the playoffs. That’s something we’re certainly capable of. Will it happen? Dallas will certainly have a lot to say in that, but this is not an obstacle we can’t do. Let’s get after it.”

In the grand scheme of a series this close, each game has been decided by one goal with the exception of empty-netters— it’s not near over. It’s about playing better, but also with some composure.

Pride is one thing. Undisciplined is another.

And the latter doesn’t play well this time of year.

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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