Only a few days ago, a trip to the Stanley Cup Final appeared to be a fait accompli for the Vegas Golden Knights, who held a three-games-to-none lead over the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference finals.
But now the Golden Knights head into Monday's Game 6 in Dallas needing to close out the best-of-seven series or face returning home for a deciding game amid a three-game losing streak.
The pressure is indeed on the Golden Knights, who lead the series 3-2 after suffering a 4-2 home loss Saturday night.
"There is pressure on both teams to try and make the Stanley Cup Final," insisted Vegas captain Mark Stone. "Game 6 is on Monday night and we're going there to win it."
Before the puck dropped on the series, prognostications of a six- or seven-game series were typical. A sweep would have been shocking.
After Vegas won the first two games in overtime and added to that edge with a 4-0 win in Game 3, the Golden Knights led each of the last two contests 2-1 in the second period, only to have the Stars roar back to win.
"I don't think we've brought our best the last two games, but we were still in a good spot to win the game," Stone said.
Saturday in Las Vegas, the Knights scored first on Ivan Barbashev's goal 13:36 into the action, but the lead lasted less than two minutes before Luke Glendening tied it for Dallas. Chandler Stephenson put Vegas back on top 3:20 into the second, but again, the Stars responded within two minutes - this time when Jason Robertson quieted the crowd.
Ty Dellandrea scored twice in the third period to send Dallas back home for Game 6.
Vegas coach Bruce Cassady said his team "should know the level of urgency it takes to get to the next phase, which is the Final. To me, there is a little bit of us pushing one another."
Just as the Golden Knights can look at the past two games as ones they could have won, the Stars have every right to believe they could be ahead had a couple bounces gone their way in the first two clashes.
"I know our group, and we weren't happy about being in the hole we were in, and they've decided to do something about it," coach Peter DeBoer said. "And now we're rolling."
The Stars, who will have captain Jamie Benn back in the lineup after he served a two-game suspension, are trying to become the fifth team in league history to capture a series - and the first in nearly a decade -- after losing the first three games.
The Toronto Maple Leafs achieved that feat in the 1942 finals against the Detroit Red Wings, the New York Islanders rallied to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1975 quarterfinals, the Philadelphia Flyers did it in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Bruins, and the Los Angeles Kings pulled it off in the 2014 Western Conference first round against the San Jose Sharks.
As much as the Stars have momentum, hockey history is filled with teams that won a couple of games after dropping the first three only to fail taking a series the distance.
"We put ourselves in a really tough spot, and to get to the point where we're at now, it just shows you the type of character that we have in our room and the belief that we have," goalie Jake Oettinger said. "Even being down 3-0, that this series was far from over.
"We've done our job up to this point, but unfortunately for us, our backs are still against the wall."
--Field Level Media