The Vegas Golden Knights entered Game 3 looking to establish their game early and withstand the anticipated early onslaught from a determined Dallas Stars club.
It’s safe to say the Golden Knights – and Dallas Stars, for that matter – were not expecting what unfolded Tuesday night at American Airlines Center.
The opening 7:10 of the first period could have not gone better for the visitors in a must-win game for the home team.
The Golden Knights scored three goals on five shots, chased Jake Oettinger and took control of the game early against a team playing without its captain, who was assessed a match penalty, game misconduct and five-minute major for cross-checking Mark Stone in the face in the first two minutes of the game.
The Golden Knights took a 4-0 lead in the second period, and the Stars – as well as their fans – lost their composure down the stretch. Adin Hill stopped all 14 shots he faced in the third period to close out the win; in total, he made 34 saves on the night for his first career playoff shutout as the Golden Knights took Game 3 by a final score of 4-0.
The Golden Knights now lead the series 3-0.
The Golden Knights lit the lamp first for the first time in the series when Jonathan Marchessault scored just 1:11 into the contest.
It was a collective effort from the top line and featured another stellar pass by Jack Eichel, who caught the puck, dropped it to his stick, delayed and then set up Marchessault for the one-timer.
Just 42 seconds later, Jamie Benn delivered an unnecessary and reckless cross-check to Stone’s head while the Vegas captain was on the ice. This resulted in Benn’s ejection and a five-minute power play for the Golden Knights, who already held a 1-0 lead.
The Stars answered with a strong penalty kill through four minutes and appeared poised to not only escape the major with all of the momentum but also tie it up on a two-on-one shorthanded chance.
Instead, Hill came up with a massive and potentially series-altering save, and the rebound bounced over the stick of Wyatt Johnston. Vegas was off to the races the other way and scored on the ensuing rush play.
It was Ivan Barbashev with his fifth of the postseason off a feed from Nicolas Roy. Oettinger was screened on the play but overcommitted, leaving the far-side top corner exposed.
Barbashev hit his target to give Vegas a 2-0 lead just under six minutes into the contest.
But 73 seconds later, the fourth line cashed in to give Vegas a commanding 3-0 lead, as William Carrier beat Oettinger top-shelf on the backhand.
The Golden Knights scored three goals on five shots in the span of 7:10 to take control of the game, drain all of the energy out of the building and chase Oettinger. Scott Wedgewood came in for the Dallas starter just over seven minutes into a critical Game 3 matchup and finished the night with 10 saves on 11 shots.
The Golden Knights came up with a clutch penalty kill a few minutes later, getting some assistance from the post on a shot by Jason Robertson, who had goals in Games 1 and 2.
The Golden Knights preserved the 3-0 lead through 20 minutes.
The Stars’ frustration boiled over in the second period, in large part due to another momentum twist that went in Vegas’ favor.
The Stars killed off another passive Vegas power play in the first half of the second and were on the verge of coming out of it with some momentum. However, just as the power play to Miro Heiskanen expired, Alex Pietrangelo scored from the point, beating Wedgewood on a double screen to give the Golden Knights a 4-0 lead and silence the crowd.
Pietrangelo’s tally was Vegas’ fourth goal on just 12 shots and came one second after the penalty expired.
Both teams traded power plays later in the period; in his series debut, Ty Dellandrea took two penalties in the middle frame to give Vegas four minutes of time on the man-advantage with a significant lead. The Golden Knights didn’t score, but it ate up valuable time and led to more aggravation for the Stars.
In the final 30 seconds of the frame, Max Domi cross-checked Nicolas Hague and followed it up by punching him in the face. Hague did not respond but later took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on his way off the ice; since Domi got four minutes and a 10-minute misconduct, the Golden Knights came out of it with a power play.
“When they started to run around, we just stood together [to] keep pushing forward and win as a team,” Hague said. “It’s no secret that everyone in here is always gonna stick up for each other, and we’re gonna have each other’s backs. But what [Dallas is] doing, it’s nothing we can’t handle. A couple of dirty plays, I thought; we just kind of stay out of it and focus on winning a hockey game, which is exactly what we did.”
While this was unfolding, fans began throwing trash on the ice. For the sake of player safety, the officials elected to send both teams to their respective locker rooms with 21.6 seconds remaining on the clock, which would be played at the start of the third on a fresh sheet of ice.
The teams finished the end of the second period at the start of the third, at which point Vegas officially held a 4-0 lead after two.
The Stars made a push in the third, outshooting Vegas 14-2, but Hill came up with 14 saves on 14 shots to close out the win. He made several key saves early, including a few on Radek Faksa.
The Golden Knights had just one shot through the first 14-plus minutes of the final frame, but Hill stood tall and the Golden Knights closed out another impressive road win, improving to 11-3 all-time in Game 3 matchups.
The Golden Knights had an incredible start, and it carried them to the finish line Tuesday night in Game 3.
They executed every step of the way, and it was the difference in this game.
The forecheck was excellent from the start, the neutral-zone play was drastically improved, all four lines and all three pairs played solid defense, Vegas remained disciplined, the penalty kill came through, Hill had another strong game and the Golden Knights never strayed from their game plan. According to Natural Stat Trick, Dallas was limited to just six high-danger chances at all strengths in a must-win game on home ice.
The Golden Knights scored on their first shot, led for 58:49 and never lost control of the game.
Dallas outshot Vegas 34-16, including 23-6 in the second and third periods. But when Vegas needed a goal, Vegas got a goal. When Vegas needed a save, Vegas got a save.
The Golden Knights took advantage of their opportunities and made the most of some puck luck, as the Stars hit the post multiple times and had the puck bounce over their stick on a promising rebound at 1-0.
In the end, Benn’s decision changed the game.
“He made a mistake,” Pete DeBoer said about the Stars captain after the game. “He feels really badly about it; I don’t think anyone in the building feels worse. … I’m not gonna pile on him. He’s been a leader here for his entire career and leads by example every day on and off the ice. [He] made a mistake. Fortunately, Mark Stone’s OK, and we’ve gotta live with the consequences, and the consequence was a big hole.”
Even so, the first four minutes of Vegas’ power play were awful, particularly given the stakes. It was early in a critical game on the road, Vegas had a surprising lead and it was a golden opportunity to improve that lead on an extended power play.
But the Golden Knights were passive and indecisive, and their casual play made it easier for an already-talented group of penalty killers to get clears and eat up time.
The Stars then broke out on an odd-man rush with the best opportunity through four minutes and forced Hill to come up with a save.
Bruce Cassidy has stressed the importance of timely saves all year and throughout the playoffs, and Hill’s save in that moment was monumental. It may not have been a highlight-reel save, but in the moment, Hill came through.
“You look at a 4-0 game, we come down and score, that 15 seconds of hockey has a huge impact on the game, so that’s where Hilly deserves credit too for making that big save for us and then us finishing at the other end.”
The fans may have thrown popcorn on him before the third period, but Hill is now 5-1 in the postseason and has won five games in a row. He has been sensational.
“He was outstanding,” Barbashev said about the Vegas netminder. “He just makes the saves that keeps us in the game, especially just even looking in the last game in OT. They could have finished it, but he made a save and we went the other way and scored. He’s been outstanding and a huge part of our team.”
Roy also praised Hill’s performance.
“What can you say, he was unbelievable out there,” he said. “It’s nice to see him get rewarded because when he was out, he was working so hard to get back and be ready, and he’s been awesome since he’s been back.”
As is often the case, a huge save at one end preceded a goal at the other; the sequence of Hill’s save on Dellandrea and Barbashev’s goal was the turning point in the game.
Barbashev, who continues to prove to be a key trade-deadline addition, capitalized immediately to take a 2-0 lead and reclaim all the momentum.
Carrier’s goal changed the temperature in the arena; it was a full-line goal by the fourth line, which played well for the second game in a row.
“I think everyone in our lineup up front has scored a goal now, so you always feel better about that,” Cassidy said. “[Carrier’s] game’s coming around … now he’s getting some looks at the net. … He wants to pitch in, and I think it’s good.”
During the first intermission, Marchessault told ESPN’s Emily Kaplan that, much like the Oilers thought of Pietrangelo’s slash on Leon Draisaitl in the second round, Benn’s hit “was not a hockey play. It’s pretty disgusting; he leans on top of [Stone] and just gives it to him in the head there.”
Benn, who could face supplemental discipline for the hit, declined to address the media after the game.
“We wanted to get one on the power play to make them pay,” Marchessault said, “so it’s a pretty good period for us.”
‘Pretty good’ is an understatement.
As soon as the puck dropped, Vegas got to its game and established the forecheck. The top line continued to give Dallas fits, and the chemistry between Marchessault and Eichel gave Vegas the early lead, which was huge on the road.
“We finished plays,” Cassidy said about Vegas’ strong start. “[When] you get a lead on the road, it always makes it a little bit easier to relax and play, not to chase the game. We’ve been doing a lot of [chasing] successfully, but it’s not the formula you want every night.”
The second and third periods weren’t nearly as eventful, though Pietrangelo’s first of the playoffs was a back-breaker. At 3-0, cutting the deficit to two in the first period or in the first half of the second period would have changed the feel of the game; instead, the Golden Knights scored anyway, and the lead felt insurmountable for a deflated Stars club.
The power play was the only part of Vegas’ game that was lacking, yet it still managed to score a crucial goal.
Dallas lost forward Evgenii Dadonov, who was injured in the first period and did not return, leaving the Stars with 10 forwards for most of the game.
The Golden Knights also lost a player to injury, as Brett Howden did not play in the third period. After the game, Cassidy said Howden aggravated a lower-body injury. Since “he’s trying to play through it, I don’t believe it’s anything overly serious, but tomorrow we’ll have a better answer for you,” Cassidy said. “We decided to not push it.”
The Golden Knights did exactly what they had to do in another gutsy performance on the road, where Vegas is now 5-1 this postseason. From the get-go, Vegas was focused, sharp and ready. Dallas was not.
“Collectively, we lost as a group tonight,” Tyler Seguin said.
The Golden Knights, on the other hand, won as a group.
Joe Pavelski said the Stars, as a group, “have to rally together. … We needed to be better [after the penalty], and we weren’t.”
The Golden Knights, as a group, will look to prevent such a rally in Game 4 Thursday night in Dallas, where Vegas will have a chance to complete the four-game sweep and advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in franchise history.