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4 reasons to still believe in the Golden Knights, explained by the Golden Knights

A Game 4 loss has the league’s expansion darlings in trouble. But they’ve found legitimate reasons to be hopeful.

2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Four Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Capitals have dug a hole and pushed the Golden Knights into it. The Caps’ 6-2 win in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday has Vegas on the brink. NHL teams that take 3-1 series leads go on to win them about 90 percent of the time.

At a glance, the Capitals’ situation seems even rosier than that. They’ve won three games in a row and scored at least three goals in each of them. They’ve trended in the right direction, winning first by a goal in Game 2, then by two goals in Game 3 and four goals in Game 4.

But after their worst loss of the series, as they sat in the bowels of Capital One Arena late Monday, the Golden Knights struck a more optimistic tone than they did after earlier, less lopsided losses in this series. The Knights have reasons to think they can still win.

“Absolutely. What are we doing here if we’re not?” center Erik Haula said.

1. The Golden Knights think they played well in Game 4. In a way, they did.

Six goals allowed are six goals allowed. The Knights did that, and it was bad. But some of the core functions of their game were sound. They skated better than they did in Game 3, certainly, and maybe in any game all series. It led to a hefty possession advantage. Vegas had a 30-23 edge in shots on goal, a massive 71-41 edge in total shots attempted, and a 56-30 edge in attempts at five-on-five. The puck was on VGK sticks for two-thirds of the game.

“There was a lot of moments it was our game, for sure,” coach Gerard Gallant said.

The Knights weren’t just volume shooters. After the Capitals locked them out of the offensive slot with stingy coverages in Game 3, Vegas found the front of the net often. Look at this heat map that illustrates the prime real estate the Knights were launching from:

Natural Stat Trick

“We were battling hard. We were circling. We were putting pucks deep. I think we had a lot of O-zone time,” winger Tomas Tatar, who played for the first time in the series, said. “That’s the game we wanted to play. The result and outcome, it’s not what we wanted.”

It could’ve been a different game. Maybe it would’ve been if, on a power play early in the first period and the score 0-0, James Neal hadn’t rung a shot off the post when Braden Holtby was sprawled out on the ice and in no position to make a save.

“To be honest, I thought it was in,” Holtby said later.

It wasn’t. T.J. Oshie scored moments later, and the Caps scored twice more in the next 10 minutes, each goal sandwiched between Vegas opportunities.

“I felt like after every goal, we just came back and got a chance to score,” center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said, “and then it didn’t go in, and then on the other side, they scored.”

2. The Knights are going back to Las Vegas, where they’re a different team.

The Golden Knights were a shade above .500 on the road in the regular season, with 22 wins in 41 games. They’re now 6-4 on the road in the playoffs.

At raucous T-Mobile Arena, they’re a combined 36-14.

“It’s our house at home. We’re gonna be pumped,” Bellemare said.

A Game 7 would be there, too, though that’s a few bridges away.

3. Washington shouldn’t dominate quite that much on special teams again.

Washington was 3-of-5 on the power play. Vegas was 0-for-4, though the Knights got a Neal goal one second after a Capitals penalty ended that was basically on a man advantage.

The Golden Knights are 2-for-12 on the power play in this series. The Capitals are 4-of-12. But Vegas’ unit moved the puck with a lot more precision than in past games.

“We had a good power play,” Tatar said. “We had good looks. We couldn’t score a goal.”

The penalty kill is a scarier issue because of how good Washington’s power play is.

“Well, they scored [three] goals, so obviously we have to be better,” Bellemare said. “Those two goals were two mistakes on our side. They didn’t present anything especially different.”

On the first of those goals, Brayden McNabb seemed to lose track of T.J. Oshie, letting the Capital have a free run to the net for a rebound chance. On the second, Deryk Engelland lost a puck battle behind his net to set up a John Carlson one-timer.

4. Marc-Andre Fleury’s had a rough series, but Vegas still believes in him.

Fleury entered this series on pace for one of the best goaltending postseasons ever, with a .947 playoff save percentage and 1.68 goals-against average. In the Final, those numbers have tanked to an .845 save percentage and 4.08 GAA. It seemed sensible to pull Fleury when Vegas trailed 4-0 after two periods on Monday, but Gallant said he didn’t consider it.

“At least five of the six goals, wide open nets,” Gallant said. “Nothing he could’ve done.”

When the Golden Knights see Fleury, they don’t see the guy from the last four games. They see the guy from the 15 before that.

“He’s the best goalie in the league,” Haula said. “I’m not worried about him whatsoever. He’s the best player out there, and that’s it.”