The remarkable tale of the Vegas Golden Knights could add a new chapter Sunday, as the expansion side looks to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
Vegas' appearance in the Western Conference Final was an improbable achievement, but as many suspected, the team wasn't going to be happy by just showing up against the Winnipeg Jets.
The Golden Knights hold a 3-1 series advantage entering Game 5 in Winnipeg, where they scored the first of their three consecutive victories in Game 2.
From Winnipeg's perspective, it's all about surviving before focusing on Game 6. In order to extend the series, the Jets must correct their mistakes from the past three contests and find a way to beat Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury more than the Golden Knights beat Connor Hellebuyck.
Western Conference Final Game 5 Information
Start Time: 3 p.m. ET
Odds (via OddsShark): Winnipeg (-141; bet $141 to win $100); Vegas (+128; bet $100 to win $128)
Vegas Looking To Ride Wave of Momentum into Stanley Cup Final
After losing Game 1 in Winnipeg. it was hard to imagine the Golden Knights stringing together a trio of solid victories to set up a clinching scenario in Game 5.
But that's the situation at hand for Vegas, which outscored the Jets 10-5 over the past three contests.
One of the main keys to Vegas' success has been the play of Fleury, who boasts a .930 save percentage over four games.
The three-time Stanley Cup champion is used to pressure-packed games like he will face Sunday, which means he shouldn't be affected by the raucous crowd in Winnipeg that will be hoping to push the Jets into Game 6.
Offensively, the Golden Knights have put up numbers never seen before by a team participating in its first postseason.
Right winger Reilly Smith, who leads Vegas with four assists in the series, earned the record for most assists by a player in his team's first playoff appearance in Game 4, per the team's official Twitter account:
With his assist on the opening goal of Game 4, center Jonathan Marchessault tied the all-time mark for points in his team's first postseason appearance, per NHL PR:
While all the momentum appears to be in their favor, the Golden Knights are aware Game 5 won't be any easier than the previous four showdowns with the Jets, as defenseman Nate Schmidt told Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
"We still have a game to play and it's the hardest one to get," Schmidt said. "l can't imagine it being any easier or tougher than anything else in this series. It's going to be a tough battle."
In their first two postseason series, the Golden Knights finished off the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks with their first clinching opportunities.
Although it's possible Winnipeg works its way back into the series on home ice, Vegas appears to be unstoppable as it tries to head into the Stanley Cup Final with a massive amount of confidence and momentum.
Jets Focusing on Game 5
The climb to the Stanley Cup Final is going to be steep for the Jets, but they aren't worried about taking the series just yet.
Head coach Paul Maurice needs to get his side focused on staying alive by winning Game 5 before he can consider preparations for Games 6 and 7.
As simple as it sounds, the Jets need to get out to a fast start Sunday and challenge Fleury with every opportunity they get.
Center Andrew Copp made it clear that starting strong and scoring first will be massive in Game 5, per Mitchell Clinton of the team's official website.
"It's going to be really important, not only just to score the first but [to] have a good start," Copp said. "It felt like we actually started OK last game. We just got into penalty trouble early. That can determine how it looks like you start."
In Game 4, the Jets had a far from ideal opening, as an early penalty by defenseman Tyler Myers led to the first Vegas goal from center William Karlsson.
As well as avoiding time in the penalty box, the Jets need to pepper Fleury with shots from the start of the contest. If Winnipeg sustains pressure on the Vegas net, it should be able to score once or twice to swing the momentum in its favor.
Keep an eye on right winger Blake Wheeler and center Mark Scheifele, who have been Winnipeg's best offensive players in the postseason. Wheeler has assisted on six of the nine goals recorded by the Jets in the series, while Scheifele is the team's leading scorer with three tallies.
If Winnipeg's one-two punch is able to beat Fleury early, the Jets have a chance of sending the series back to T-Mobile Arena.
However, if the mistakes from the past three games continue to plague Winnipeg, Game 5 will end in a celebration by the visitors.