After hosting a crucial Game 5 in the NBA playoffs, the American Airlines Center took center stage once again Tuesday, by hosting the biggest hockey game in Dallas since the 2019 Game 6 playoff game against the St. Louis Blues. The Stars. hosting the Vegas Golden Knights, were a regulation win away from clinching their spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since the bubble season. It has been a winding road for a Stars team that, if they qualified, would be the only team in the NHL with both a losing record on the road and a negative goal differential.
On the other side of the ice Tuesday night, the Vegas Golden Knights flew into Dallas looking to save its season. Few could have imagined in October that the Knights would be fighting for their playoff lives and not actively in the conversation of Stanley Cup contenders. Vegas finds themselves in a situation where the club trails the Stars by three points for the last wild card spot, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. With a chance to shrink the gap to two points in the West, Vegas dropped a heartbreaking game to the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night in a shootout. To make matters worse for Vegas, starting goaltender Robin Lehner will miss the remainder of the season with an injury.
In terms of regular season hockey games the, “playoff like,” label could be appropriately applied to the action going on inside the AAC on Tuesday. The Stars, very much in control of its destiny, and the Knights fighting to simply give themselves a chance.
First Period Observations:
Jake Oettinger was extremely sharp to start the game in the first period. Dallas opened up an early five-to-nothing shot advantage that was aided by the early power-play opportunity. When Oettinger finally saw a flurry of action he was square to the puck, tracking well, and generally was quick to close off shooting angles. While Vegas did maintain zone-time, it was mostly a product of the Stars struggling with their high cycle from the wall to the points. Vegas was able to rotate the puck up for the puck to be funneled towards the net.
On the offensive side of the play the Stars were very successful at moving the puck in between the dots on the Vegas defense. Aided by their overall checking game, the Stars on the rush were deliberately working the puck from side-to-side, forcing Thompson to move latterly. It didn’t pay off in terms of goals in the first period, but the aggressiveness with the puck was evident.
Ultimately the Stars would find themselves down in the hockey game at the break, surrendering the first goal of the game for the fourth straight game. An innocent looking rush by William Carrier in the neutral zone resulted in an odd deflection by Luke Glendening into the Stars net for the games first goal.
Dallas 0 Vegas 1
Dallas 8 Vegas 8
Second Period Observations:
At the start of the second period the Stars were firmly placed on their heels for the first eight minutes. Vegas continually worked pucks behind the Stars defense with their speed and peppered Oettinger as a result. The Stars didn’t help themselves much with their general lack of defensive awareness at times in those first ten minutes.
Jason Robertson is such a special player and his goal to open the scoring for the Stars was all the proof anyone needed to know why. Robertson took the puck on a feed, curled high, showed off his backhand to forehand ability in-tight, and placed the puck perfectly behind Thompson for his 39th goal of the season. The goal also showed how reliant the Stars are on their lethal first line combination, something that Vegas media pointed out as a potential factor in the hockey game.
For the most part the Stars hung into the hockey game in the second period. The start was rough, the middle to late portion of good, and the final seconds were catastrophic following the Stephenson power-play goal, With the Stars down at the forty minute mark, the team had a hill to climb in the third.
Dallas 1 Vegas 2
Dallas 18 Vegas 20
Third Period Observations:
The Stars came out and pushed the play from the drop of the puck in the third period. Extended zone-time and a return to their aggressive forecheck resulted in multiple scoring chances early. It wasn’t until the Stars worked the puck up to John Klingberg for a shot that was deflected off of the stick of Robertson that the Stars finally cashed in to tie the game. The goal was Robertson’s 40th goal of the season.
Throughout the night, especially in the third period, the Stars top line of Joe Pavelski, Roope Hintz, and Robertson were hunting pucks. The speed of the line was something that Vegas struggled with throughout, but the intensity that the trio played with was at another level as the game reached the later stages.
As the period reach the final minutes the Stars were obviously struggling with the increased intensity of the Knights. Jake Oettinger was the key reason why the Stars were even in a tie hockey game going into overtime.
Dallas 2 Vegas 2
Dallas 28 Vegas 34
The best chance in the first minutes of overtime for the Stars came via a Roope Hintz breakaway when Robertson sprung him with a great pass. His shot was ultimately stopped by Thompson on a spiffy glove save. The whole of the three-on-three overtime session featured a lot of puck possession without a lot of pucks finding their way on either of the net-minders. With the game still tied after the OT period the Stars and Knights ultimately settled for a shootout.
After a shootout that featured prominently on the goaltenders it was Miro Heiskanen who finally ended the game and gave the Stars a massive win. The Stars victory pulls them within one point of clinching one of the two wild card spots in the Western Conference.
Dallas 3 Vegas 2
Dallas 39 Vegas 35
For a Stars team that has dearly struggled with special teams in the second half of the season, the power-play units were called into action only a minute into the contest. Nicholas Roy of the Knights committed a holding penalty, giving Dallas a chance on the advantage with a fresh sheet of ice and a chance to build some early momentum. The early portion of the set looked promising for the Stars, as they were able to snap the puck around the Vegas killers early. The most dangerous of the chances came in the first minute of the power-play when the Stars worked the puck from high to low for a point blank chance on Thompson. The shot was repelled, as would be the fate of the Stars power-play a little over a minute later.
After nearly forty minutes of penalty free hockey following the Stars early power-play, a late hooking penalty on Glendening sent Vegas to the power-play for the first time. It wouldn’t take the Golden Knights long to convert on the attempt, as they fouled up the Stars from get-go. Finally, the Knights worked the puck to Jack Eichel, who threw the puck on net where Chandler Stephenson batted the loose puck in with four second left in the period.
Special teams took center stage once again with under three minutes remaining in the third period. Hintz and Eichel were each assessed minor penalties for roughing following a scrum behind the Vegas net. The minors would force the game into four-on-four action where Dallas would make a mess of things repeatedly. Multiple turnovers led to easy Vegas looks toward Oettinger, who was forced to stay sharp to keep the game tied.
Stars Checking :
Early in the hockey game it became apparent that the Stars were committed to out-checking the Golden Knights all over the ice. The Stars repeatedly dumped the puck deep into the Vegas zone and out-checked the Vegas defense on the wall. This intensity forced the Knights defense to rush with the puck, which led to multiple turnovers deep in the Knights end. What was impressive about the Stars early commitment to a hard forecheck was that it was not exclusive to the Stars depth lines. Mid-way through the first period the line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Denis Gurianov were able to finish multiple checks that gave Dallas extended zone-time.
With the game in the second period the Stars checking seemed to be neutralized by a Vegas defense that used speed and puck movement to swerve away from the Stars. It also helped the Knights that the Stars generally didn’t possess the puck much at the start of the second period, thus not allowing them to establish a forecheck in the Vegas end. As the period progressed Dallas would find their forecheck in spurts, giving the Knights trouble when they were able to attack with speed and numbers.
Jason Robertson hits 40
Jason Robertson is really good at scoring goals in hockey games. The second year forward for the Stars netted the Stars first two goals of the game for his 39th and 40th goals respectively. Robertson joins an elite list of players in Stars history with his 40th goal of the season. Only Mike Modano, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and now Robertson have scored 40 goals in a Stars uniform since 1993. To further expand on that list of players one would have to refer back to the franchises days in Minnesota. Elite.
Tuesday’s game was a display in what makes Robertson so deadly in goal scoring situations. His ability to control the puck in-tight on defensemen, his rapid release, and his willingness to go to the hard areas all combine to make him an elite goal scorer. It’s easy to lose sight of just how unexpected this all is for the Stars with Robertson being a second round pick in the same draft that yielded Miro Heiskanen and Jake Oettinger. A great deal of credit should go to the Stars front office and coaching staff on an incredible job of drafting, developing, and placing Robertson in situations that maximize his success.