The Vegas Golden Knights are off to a 3-1 series lead over the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final and are a win away from the Stanley Cup Final.
Vegas earned the top seed in the Western Conference with a strong regular season, and they only needed five games to eliminate the Winnipeg Jets in the first round. Against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers in the second round, Vegas managed to limit one of the league’s most high-powered offenses at five-on-five, and took the series in six games.
Jack Eichel, in his first postseason appearance, has more than lived up to expectations. He leads the Golden Knights in goals (6), assists (8), and points (14). Eichel is an early contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy, and another great series against a stingy Stars defense will get him one step closer to the award.
In their first-round series against the Minnesota Wild, the Stars fell behind 2-1 before taking over and winning the last three games. Last round, Dallas got all it could handle from the Seattle Kraken, who pushed the series to seven games. A couple of shaky outings from Jake Oettinger gave the Kraken some life, but the Stars completely controlled the decisive Game 7.
They’ve had good stretches of play throughout. They were the better team for most of Game 2, but the Knights rallied behind a late third-period goal from right wing Jonathan Marchessault to win it 1:12 into overtime.
Dallas won a game it controlled for the first two periods Thursday. The Stars erased 1-0 and 2-1 deficits thanks to two goals from left wing Jason Robertson, then earned their first overtime win in five tries in this year’s playoffs on 38-year-old Joe Pavelski’s one-timer.
Coach Bruce Cassidy said the Stars changed their forecheck strategy Thursday, sending more pressure to the side the puck was on. It bothered the Knights’ breakouts for two periods before they started to smooth things out by balancing which side they exited from. They outshot Dallas 14-8 in the the third after trailing in shots 30-23 after two, and looked like the likelier side to win in regulation.
Another area the Knights have to continue to look at is their penalty kill. The Stars were 2-for-2 on the power play in Game 4, though the two goals didn’t come on total breakdowns.
Dallas’ first goal came on an incredible display of hand-eye coordination from Robertson. He deflected the puck twice with his stick to keep Hill from freezing it, then batted it into the net from mid-air.
Pavelski’s goal came on a bit of a scramble. Center Roope Hintz was denied in front with defenseman Alec Martinez chasing him, and the chaos by the crease caused Hill to lose his stick. Hintz recovered the puck and four seconds later it was in the Knights’ net.
The Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights played a great game on Thursday.
Vegas did take the lead again though, as Jonathan Marchessault scored at 10:23 of the second. All of the goal-scoring that Marchessault and Karlsson have been doing has to have them in the Conn Smythe Trophy race.
That absolute superstar Jason Robertson wasn’t done lighting the lamp though, as his second of the game got it tied at two at 17:21 of the second period. Nobody scored in the third, so we were treated to overtime get again.
Early in the overtime period, the Dallas Stars were awarded a power play. On the man advantage, the Dallas Stars scored to force a game five.
Roope Hintz did some dancing around with the puck and even had it on goal, but it found its way to Miro Heiskanen. The star defenseman then put it on a tee for Joe Pavelski who did not miss his one-time shot.
Now, these two teams will head back to Vegas with different motives. Dallas would like to force a game six, and Vegas will be trying to end the series there. It is a difficult situation for Dallas, but they are still alive. If they win game five, all of the pressure will go back on Vegas.
Jason Robertson deflected a shot by Roope Hintz in the first period of Game 1, and Heiskanen was credited with a goal in the first period of Game 2 when his shot from above the right face-off circle that was intended for Radek Faksa to deflect from in front of the net instead went in off the stick of Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore.
“Good defensive hockey, right,” Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “In every series we’re frustrating the top players, skill players. But it’s a buy-in throughout the lineup. It’s not one defense pairing or one forward line. There are matchups that we use, but collectively as a group we’re clogging up the middle of the ice and we’re frustrating teams. Guys are paying a price for blocking shots that need to be blocked. When you have a buy-in up and down the lineup defensively like that, it’s frustrating to play against.”
Dallas’ three goals in Game 4 came from Robertson batting the puck into the net like a baseball player and later putting one in after Esa Lindell’s shot from the point went off the end boards and to the front of the net, and then Pavelski ripping a one-timer from the left circle.
Ty Dellandrea was in front of the net when Lindell was shooting, but Pietrangelo was right there trying to tie up his stick.
“Our forwards have done a good job not giving them that open lane to the net and we’ve made some adjustments on one of the net-front guys stepping out to that high tip option,” Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore said. “We know Pavelski is up there. We know he’s good at getting his stick on pucks. Just trying to eliminate that, get sticks and boxing out in the corners has been key for us.”
Dallas opened the scoring via a Jason Robertson goal with just over a minute remaining in the first period, but it was all Vegas from then. Karlsson scored the game’s next two goals to give Vegas its first lead, and after Dallas’ Roope Hintz scored a game-tier at 4:01 of the third, Teddy Blueger swung it back in Vegas’ favor with a goal of his own at the 9:20 mark.
But just when it looked like Dallas was done, Jamie Benn scored a game-tying goal with less than two minutes remaining in regulation to send it to overtime. Overtime, however, was a quick affair as Howden scored the game-winner by banking the puck off Stars goalie Jake Oettinger at 1:35 of the extra period. The Golden Knights are now 2-0 in overtime games this postseason, while the Stars are 0-3.
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