The playoffs at this stage of the game are a war. Physically taxing, with time and space hard to come by. Nothing is given, everything must be earned. The Dallas Stars learned the hard way in Game 2 that their effort level wasn’t enough. It can be forgiven if anyone watching began to wonder if the Knights were about to assert themselves in this series.
The Stars were a club desperately in need of a response.
In a game that had the feel of a must-win for a Stars club not wanting to stare down a 2-1 hole going into the weekend, the Stars came out pushing.
The first period for the Stars required a physical response after the Stars were outhit by a healthy margin in Game 2. The Stars answered the physical bell, as both clubs came out hard on the body. Dallas was eventually able to parlay the physical game into a dangerous sequence when the reunited line of Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov, and Tyler Seguin came awfully close to slipping a puck behind Robin Lehner.
The Stars’ best chances in the first five minutes would come courtesy of the Stars top line as they were able to effectively chip pucks behind the Knights defense. Radulov registered the Stars’ cleanest look on a physical cycle that saw Jamie Benn slip a centering feed to the winger. Lehner was equal to the task and looked very sharp to start the evening.
As the period went along, it seemed that the Stars were able to assert their cycle game when they established possession in the Vegas end. Dallas also found success in their own end by establishing their defensive structure, and when the structure broke down, Anton Khudobin was sharp early to erase the mistakes.
Dallas would earn the first power play of the evening when Max Pacioretty was caught for holding on Joel Kiviranta. The Knights easily extinguished the Stars power play without surrendering a shot on goal.
The last five minutes of the period, after the power play, would see the Knights assert their game more and more. The Knights’ forecheck became heavier and their looks at Khudobin were more frequent. The Knights would continue to bring pressure when they drew a power play courtesy of Jamie Oleksiask tripping up Alex Tuch. The penalty would carry over as the first period ended.
Score: Dallas 0 - Knights 0
Shots on Goal: Dallas 4 - Golden Knights 12
The Stars were able to successfully kill the balance of the Vegas power play, making both teams a combined 0-2 on special teams to that point. The play of the first five minutes came when Miro Heiskanen stalked the Vegas forward from behind to break up a 2-on-1 situation. Immediately following that stellar play, Heiskanen gave the Stars their best chance of the opening minutes when he fed Kiviranta as he was streaking into the zone. Kiviranta shot the puck, which trampolined out Lehner’s glove, and was able to follow up his rebound before the puck was frozen.
As the period reached the halfway mark the Stars seemed to be working into the type of game they wanted to play. The Stars looked faster, were generating shots and chances, and were staying on the physical game. The Knights would push back a bit with solid zone time, aided by John Klingberg suffering a broken stick. The Stars would successfully handle the situation with Khudobin stepping up to make a key glove grab.
The balance of the period would see sporadic spurts of zone time from each club. The zone time would come off of turnovers and offensive zone face-off that both teams used to their advantage. Khudobin would make his most important save of the night when Klingberg bobbled the puck at the blue line, giving William Karlsson a clean breakaway. The puck jumped a bit on the Vegas forward allowing Khudobin to smother the play.
The Stars would finally break through for the first goal of the game on the rare defenseman breakaway goal, when Oleksiak finished a beautiful move on the backhand. The sequence leading up to the goal was marked by tremendous in-zone defending that led to Blake Comeau moving the puck up to Oleksiak with a slick pass to spring the big defenseman.
The third period would start with both clubs pushing for early chances, the best of which came on a mini 2-on-1 with Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin. Lehner was equal to Seguin’s shot, stopping it rather easily with his blocker.
The Stars would make their lives hard and then harder again with back-to-back penalties courtesy of a John Klingberg delay of game and Blake Comeau hooking infraction. The Golden Knights would come painfully close to tying the game when Shea Theodore rang the post, only to see the puck careen out of the zone. Theodore would not be denied however, as just after the 5-on-3 expired, he would wire a wrist shot past Khudobin to tie the game at one a piece.
The Knights would exert a massive amount of pressure in the Stars end, cycling the puck at will and testing Khudobin routinely. Kiviranta would make a smart play to ice the puck, giving the Stars a chance to re-rack. Re-rack they did, and on the next shift Jamie Benn would take a smart feed from Seguin, walk the puck in and beat Lehner five-hole to restore the Stars’ lead.
Following the Benn goal, the Knights would come back and nearly tie the game seconds later in a desperate net-mouth scramble. Finally, Vegas would come back and capitalize on the zone time and a victory on the board, when Alex Tuch ripped a puck towards the goal, off Mark Stone, and into the net. The goal would be challenged by the Stars, but was eventually upheld giving the Knights a power play to follow their goal.
The Knights would continue to pour on the pressure on the power play, building their shot advantage in the period to 14-3 with five and half minutes remaining. Khudobin would come up huge again and again on the penalty kill, ensuring the score would stay tied. The period would go along with relatively little to talk about until the final three seconds of the period.
The puck would take a whacky bounce right to Seguin who would feed Benn for a last second shot. Benn picked five hole, which Lehner stopped to preserve the tie. However, it looked like Lehner caught the puck on an unpadded portion of his knee, sending him to the dressing room in obvious pain.
End of Regulation
Score: Stars 2 - Knights 2
Shots on Goal: Stars 22 - Knights 40
The Stars would take possession of the puck immediately in the overtime period, working the puck within the neutral zone. The play by the Stars would eventually stretch out the Vegas defenders, leaving Pavelski to make a smart pass to Radulov in open ice. Radulov would speed in with time and space before ripping a shot over Lehner’s shoulder to give the Stars the overtime winner 31 secondS into the period.
Score: Stars 3 - Knights 2
Shots on Goal: Dallas 23 - Knights 40
Stars Lead Series 2-1