“We were just committed to Dallas Stars hockey,” Jamie Benn said after Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
A 1-0 win for the team from Texas is about as Dallas Stars hockey-y that you’ll see.
Without Marc-Andre Fleury in net, this game could have easily been 3-0 or 4-0. Dallas was very committed to limiting the quality of the shots against — something that was a hallmark of Stars hockey in the regular season — but they did still press the offensive zone strategically when they were able to take advantage.
“It shows that Dallas can play the game any which way,” NBC analyst Patrick Sharp said after the game. He said you couldn’t say that about this team a couple of years ago, marking how far they’ve seemingly come.
It’s just one game, but under normal playoff circumstances, every team would set out to win one of the first two on the road before coming back to their home ice advantage. Even in the bubble, not much changes about that mentality.
Dallas came out looking fresh and ready, and you could tell the team was feeling themselves based on Jamie Benn’s first shift. He picked off a puck near his own blue line and got off a quality chance on Marc-Andre Fleury, who had to be very aware and ready to start the game.
That was a bit of foreshadowing, as he’d need to come up big the entire game to keep Vegas in it.
Just 2:36 into the game, the Stars would capitalize on their spry start and open scoring in the Western Conference Finals series. It started when the Stars forced a turnover in their own end along the half-wall and turned up ice with numbers. They hit the offensive zone with a 3-on-2 advantage. Benn ripped a shot at Fleury, and it bounced off of Zach Whitecloud’s skate. The bouncing puck settled in the slot, and a streaking John Klingberg, who was completely uncovered by Vegas, skated in and took advantage of the opportunity gifted to him.
A bar-down shot later, and Dallas was up 1-0 on their first shot of the game.
The first half of the period, Dallas dictated the pace of the game. As they settled into the game, Vegas picked up a little momentum and spent some time forcing Dallas to play defense. Anton Khudobin put up the wall when needed, and the period ended closer to even in most statistical categories — but leading in the one that matters. Dallas held a 7-5 edge in scoring chances according to Natural Stat Trick, but neither team got much in the way of the high danger areas — 3-2 in favor of Vegas after 20 minutes.
The entire game, the analysts and play-by-play announcers remarked on how tired Vegas looked after playing on Friday and playing in their third game in four nights. The thing is, these playoffs have been compacted for everyone, and Dallas was on their third game in five nights after playing Friday as well. So it’s not like they were overly rested comparatively.
They just looked faster from the jump.
It was a really good second period for the Stars this game, but Fleury was more than up to the task when needed.
Dallas did a very good job winning the neutral zone battle. They clogged the middle of the ice, preventing Vegas from getting into the zone cleanly most chances they had, and forcing some turnovers in neutral ice. It frustrated the Golden Knights, who are used to being able to get setup in the offensive zone with a strong cycle game.
One funny note during the first portion of this game was the fact that both sides had truncated power play opportunities as a result of their team drawing a penalty from the opponent when on the kill. It made the power play percentages look overly dramatic, considering the less than two minutes collectively the two sides had on the man advantage at that point in the game.
By the end of the second period, Dallas held a 17-7 scoring chance edge according to Natural Stat Trick, and a 5-3 edge in high danger scoring chances after going 3-0 in that category in the middle frame. However, Fleury once again proved tough to beat.
A late period penalty meant the Golden Knights started the third with 1:20 of power play time. The Stars put on a killing clinic, keeping the Vegas squad from even registering a shot on goal during that man advantage time.
After six minutes were gone in the period, Joel Kiviranta committed a hooking penalty on Whitecloud. Dallas once again came up with a big kill, keeping Vegas from getting much in the way of momentum. Khudobin also did a very good job controlling rebounds against a team that plays a more methodical type of game compared to the more chaotic run-and-gun of the Colorado Avalanche from the series prior.
Jamie Oleksiak said after the game that they didn’t like the way they played in the third period. Dallas didn’t present much in the way of an offensive threat in the last period, focusing on locking down the opponent instead. Benn missed the best look at the empty net once Vegas pulled Fleury for the extra attacker, but he just missed wide.
Dallas settled for a 1-0 win instead, and now lead the Western Conference Finals round 1-0.