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Stars find comfort in close games vs. Golden Knights

The Golden Knights have led for just 35:07 in the first three games of the Western Conference Final, with every second coming in Game 2 on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars have been ahead for 66:41, and the teams have been tied for 78:43.

The Knights need those numbers to change if they want to rally from their 2-1 series deficit, and not just because scoring first gives a team a better chance to win. They believe getting in front forces the defensive-minded Stars to break out of their tight structure, which should open up opportunities for the more offensively gifted Knights.

The proof came in Game 2. The Knights took their only lead of the series, then promptly scored two more goals in less than 10 minutes.

“It’s a lot easier for them to play within that (structure) when the game’s tied or they have the lead,” Knights coach Pete DeBoer said Friday on the eve of Game 4 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta. “For me, that’s been a little bit of the story through three games is how do we get them in a hole and put that pressure on them to get out of their structure. And then if they are in their structure, how do we do a better job of making it tougher on their goalie, because he’s obviously feeling pretty good about his game right now.”

The numbers bear out DeBoer’s point beyond Game 2.

The Stars are 7-2 when scoring first in the postseason. They were 23-5-4 in the regular season, and their 72 percent winning percentage when getting the first goal ranked 12th in the NHL.

Dallas is 8-1 in one-goal games in the playoffs and 3-7 in games decided by multiple goals. Only the Tampa Bay Lightning (9-1) and Winnipeg Jets (1-0) have a better record in one-goal games.

The Stars are in their element when games are close. The Knights need to get them out of it, because then the score and style of play will favor them.

“It’s going to be a focal point going forward,” Knights defenseman Shea Theodore said. “I feel like when we do get the first one we can take better control of the game. Play more to our style. It’s going to be something we’re going to have to do.”

Even strength deadlock

The Knights dominated their first two playoff series at five-on-five, but the Stars have been a much tougher opponent.

The Knights had a 151-88 edge in scoring chances in their first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, and a 195-120 advantage in the second round against the Vancouver Canucks.

The Stars have a 60-48 edge in scoring chances at five-on-five in the conference finals. The Knights have a 27-21 edge in high-danger chances.

“I still don’t feel we’ve thrown them our best 60-minute game,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “I’m hoping that will come tomorrow night.”

Nosek doubtful for Game 4

DeBoer said center Tomas Nosek is doubtful for Saturday’s game.

Nosek, who has three points in eight playoff games, left the ice with 12:55 remaining in the second period Thursday after a collision with Stars defenseman Andrej Sekera.

DeBoer said forward Nick Cousins, who has five points in 15 postseason games, probably would replace Nosek. Cousins has been scratched in three of the last four games.

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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