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Golden Knights’ edge looms larger without change of venue

Updated August 13, 2020 - 9:10 pm

Were this any other hockey season, Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer might be talking about not getting comfortable with a 2-0 series edge, and how things can quickly flip-flop in the Stanley Cup playoffs with a change of scenery.

But this is not any other hockey season. This is a hockey season that will conclude in a sterile environment during a pandemic without spectators, whiteouts and octopuses being tossed onto the ice.

There won’t be a change of scenery for Game 3 inside the bubble Saturday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta. Not unless a graffiti artist climbs on top to spray paint some elevated train tracks on it, or the aroma of a deep dish pizza instead of crowd noise is pumped in for effect.

But although the Knights beat the upstart Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in overtime Thursday, they did not dominate the Western Conference’s 12th seed after grabbing a 2-0 first-period lead. It took a goal by Reilly Smith and 7 minutes, 13 seconds of bonus hockey to decide it.

The gap between the teams did not widen from fissure to chasm.

And so what was shaping up as a one-sided series may yet evolve into something interesting, though the site and atmosphere will not be changing.

And, just as likely, it still could turn into a VGK rout. Especially if the Blackhawks do not react well to letting an excellent chance of leveling the series slip away.

Hawkish on Hawks

You can mark down Knights goalie Robin Lehner among those who believe the first-round series is a long way from over, despite his teammates outshooting the plucky pucksters from Chicago 39-25 and 23-7 after the Hawks had tied the game a second time late in the second period.

“I thought Chicago played really well,” said Lehner, who was acquired from the Blackhawks just before the trade deadline and the virus pause and remains unbeaten since joining the Knights. “Everyone keeps saying they’re the underdog. But you look at their team, their experience, the skill — it’s Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane out there, you know they are world-class players.”

But it also should be noted the Knights are now 8-1 all time against the Blackhawks. And that like Chicago, they have pretty good players, too, almost all of whom can skate like the dickens and play both ends of the ice.

Like those race cars currently turning practice laps for the Indianapolis 500, it seemed the Knights were able to grab a higher gear whenever one was needed Thursday. It made you wonder if the final score amounted to little more than the Knights making a green flag pit stop for tires.

Or, in Lehner’s case, a new pair of skates after a blade on his old ones snapped twice during a 4-1 Game 1 victory.

Bubblicious beginning

The Knights have yet to lose in the Edmonton bubble, or anywhere since the shutdown in early March. As was suggested in the postgame videoconference, it is getting more difficult to find a flaw in their game.

More difficult, but not impossible.

DeBoer said he bounced a few words off the bubble following the first game of the series that tested the Knights’ workmanship and resiliency.

“It’s not hard, you can ask our group,” the usually stoic DeBoer said with a slight chuckle about finding fault with his players. “We lit into ’em pretty good after our last game about some of our play through the neutral zone and some of our puck decisions. So I think our group is real open to constructive criticism. You never play a perfect game — we didn’t play a perfect game tonight.

“At the same time, you have to take your hat off to them. Every night you have a feeling on that bench that regardless of the situation, they’re going to find a way to win. That’s a good feeling to have as a coach.”

DeBoer said a change of scenery and spending an off day with loved ones would be welcome right about now. At the same time, being stuck inside a Canadian bubble with a 2-0 edge over Cinderella sure beats the clicketyclack of a Chicago “L” train.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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