The Dallas Stars won another one-goal game, and now lead the Vegas Golden Knights 3-1 in the series.
Just as everyone drew up, right?
Prior to the start of the Western Conference Final, nearly universally the Vegas team was considered deeper, with better goaltending, and higher scoring, than Dallas. Almost everyone assumed that this would be a sweep or maybe a Vegas advancement in five games.
Instead, the team that plays in Big D are on the cusp of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years. But that fourth win is the hardest to come by, and it won’t just be given to them, either.
Anton Khudobin is easily the best player for the Stars in this series so far. Even in games where Vegas seems to be dominating the possession game (which has been a few so far), Khudobin has been the safety valve the team needs to keep them in it. He comes up with clutch saves at big moments in the game, and allows the team time to find their legs, as Joe Pavelski said after the game tonight.
Who gave Khudobin socks?— Ryan The Hockey Guy (@RyanHockeyGuy) September 13, 2020
Dude’s playing free. #VegasBorn
His performance in Game 4 was no different. After a relatively even first period, Vegas came out firing in the second period, and with several power plays under their belt, they more than dominated the puck possession time. Khudobin was the reason that they kept the damage to only one power play goal against.
He also was a key part of the late game 5-on-3 penalty kill Dallas had to have success at in order to preserve their win tonight. After Joe Pavelski got a stick in the skates of an opponent, Jason Dickinson would commit the same type of penalty to give Vegas the 1:10 of extended two-man advantage. Dickinson’s penalty came after two glorious shorthanded chances by Dallas, so it felt like an even larger momentum killer than being on penalty kill to begin with.
Dallas defenders did a good job of keeping the Golden Knights from getting any kind of traffic in front of Khudobin, and any that did get through stuck to him, with no rebound chances for Vegas to pounce on.
Speaking of special teams....
Prior to the start of Game 4, Vegas Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer told the media that the Stars are the most penalized team in the playoffs and since his team has won the possession metrics so far this series, he would expect that the penalty calls would be in Vegas’ favor each night.
Part of why that may be, however, is the fact that two very blatant penalties committed against Stars players at the hand of Alex Tuch have gone uncalled. There was this slew foot in Game 3 against Tyler Seguin that went uncalled and received no supplemental discipline after the fact:
That's a nasty slewfoot by Tuch on Seguin. pic.twitter.com/zCgPY7yR1b— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@TheReplayGuy) September 11, 2020
In Game 4, Tuch lifted the end of his stick and put a little extra oomph into a crosscheck to Corey Perry’s face that, once again, was not penalized.
OOOOOF.#VegasBorn Alex Tuch hit on #GoStars Corey Perry pic.twitter.com/V2xDMLBhCR— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@TheReplayGuy) September 13, 2020
“I didn’t see him coming at all,” Perry said after the game. Interim head coach Rick Bowness wouldn’t even discuss the hit, saying “I have no comment on that” when asked about it post-game. If this was a hit to the head of someone not named Corey Perry, we’d likely be hearing a lot more uproar over the non-call. Given the Department of Player Safety’s penchant for being consistently inconsistent, I wouldn’t assume they’d look at this one too closely either.
The Stars continued to take wounds in the war of attrition that is the playoffs. With Radek Faksa out today as a result of the injury last game, Andrew Cogliano drew back into the lineup.
During the course of play in tonight’s effort, Dallas lost three players for varying amounts of time. Esa Lindell hobbled off after a huge block on the penalty kill and missed a couple of shifts. Corey Perry was pulled off the ice after that Tuch hit and went through concussion protocol. He later returned in the third period. Roope Hintz fell awkwardly into Perry’s hip after going to the ice with Alex Martinez in the second period. It appeared that he strained his neck, and he didn’t return to the game.
Here's where Sportsnet believes #GoStars Roope Hintz was injured pic.twitter.com/647KJKtdKC— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@TheReplayGuy) September 13, 2020
In post-game media availability, Bowness had no update on Hintz’s status. He said they’ll have one tomorrow when the team practices.
Jamie Benn is having a great series right now. He showed up with another huge goal in tonight’s game, and did all of the little things away from the puck to help get the win. “He’s doing what you want your captain to do,” Bowness said about Benn’s performance.
The other goal scorer tonight was a veteran player, too. Pavelski came up with a huge tying goal courtesy of a great in-zone play by Cogliano, who pounced on a Vegas pass to force a turnover that landed on Pavelski’s stick. He floated the puck up and over Lehner to answer Martinez’s power play goal scored four minutes earlier.
With the win, the Stars took a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. The question now is whether they can find a way to close this series out in Game 5. After failing to do so against the Colorado Avalanche last round, the Stars saw how quickly that can turn into a slide into a Game 7. Though they managed to win that one, when they did the same thing versus the St. Louis Blues last year, they were not as lucky.
Time to find that finishing touch and eliminate the boogeyman altogether.
But Vegas has zero intention of going out quietly, so the Stars will need to dig in and find that next gear. “This is a long way from over,” DeBoer said after the game, “and we’re going to be a tough out.”
Bowness on why his team doesn't seem 'giddy' about being one win away from the Final: "We didn't come here to win one or two or three rounds. We came here to win the Stanley Cup."— Taylor Baird (@taylordbaird) September 13, 2020