The Vegas Golden Knights delivered in the first installment of the Western Conference Final matchup against the Dallas Stars, winning Game 1 by a score of 4-3 in overtime to take a 1-0 series lead.
Both teams scored one goal through 40 minutes but combined for four in a wild third period that saw Jamie Benn net the equalizer with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.
However, Brett Howden called game just 1:35 into extra time with his third goal of the playoffs.
It was the Golden Knights’ first win against Dallas this season after going 0-1-2 in the regular-season matchup, and it was the Vegas’ first win against former bench boss Pete DeBoer since he was let go last offseason.
Jake Oettinger was strong early but finished the night with 33 saves on 37 shots for an .892 save percentage. Adin Hill won his fourth game of the playoffs, stopping 33 of 36 for a .917 save percentage.
William Karlsson scored twice for Vegas, while Roope Hintz recorded a game-high three points for the Stars.
The first 10 minutes of the game was about as dominant as it gets for the Golden Knights, with everyone up and down the lineup contributing to a hard-fought effort. Vegas won puck battles, was strong at both blue lines and pushed the pace early, leading 11-1 in shots and 16-1 in shot attempts through the first nine-plus minutes.
But Oettinger was up to the task, keeping it a 0-0 game despite the lopsided start. The Golden Knights had multiple odd-man rushes and glorious chances in the opening 20 minutes but were unable to light the lamp.
But a pair of undisciplined penalties – including an interference call on Mark Stone at 12:38 and a slashing penalty on Chandler Stephenson at 15:23 – interrupted Vegas’ rhythm and allowed Dallas to climb back into the game.
That being said, the Vegas penalty kill was excellent early. Hill made a few huge saves, including a pad stop on a backdoor attempt by Wyatt Johnston.
The Golden Knights showed poise with the puck and – particularly on the second kill – stonewalled the Stars at the blue line, sending frustrated players back to the Dallas bench.
But when Alex Pietrangelo tried to send it around the boards, the puck took a strange bounce and found its way to Hintz, who then set up Jason Robertson for a redirect goal in front to give Dallas a surprising 1-0 lead late in the period.
It was a key goal for Robertson, who failed to score in the second round after potting a career-high 46 goals during the regular season.
Despite the strong start, Vegas gave up the first goal for the sixth time in the last seven games. The Golden Knights led 17-13 in shots.
Vegas’ strong play continued in the middle frame, which was the second one-goal period of the contest.
The Golden Knights went right back to work on the forecheck and were dominant in the neutral zone, gaining entry with ease and maintaining control of both blue lines.
Just over nine minutes into the period, the Golden Knights finally broke through on what looked like but was not actually a set play. Zach Whitecloud sent a shot well wide of the net, and Karlsson put home the rebound off the back boards, giving him points in three consecutive games.
Vegas came close to taking a 2-1 lead shortly after netting the equalizer, but Alec Martinez’s point shot hit the post and skirted along the goal line before Thomas Harley cleared it out of danger.
The Stars responded with a post of their own, as Tyler Seguin beat Hill but hit iron.
Vegas held Dallas without a shot for 11:13 in the second period, but some casual play by the Golden Knights in the defensive end led to a few prime scoring chances, including one for Ryan Suter off a Martinez turnover that had to be turned away by Hill.
The Golden Knights got their first power play of the series late in the second period, but, arguably, it was the team’s worst two-minute stretch through two periods. Dallas kept Vegas to the perimeter, and the Golden Knights failed to generate anything dangerous.
The Golden Knights held a 12-4 edge in scoring chances at 5-on-5 in the second period and a combined 21-12 lead at all strengths after two, but following a largely dominant opening 40 minutes, Vegas had just one goal to show for it.
The Golden Knights answered early in the third period, taking a 2-1 lead on Karlsson’s second of the night and team-leading seventh of the playoffs.
It was a fortunate bounce for Vegas, but Karlsson pounced on the opportunity as he collected it in the slot, made a move to get around Hintz and then fired it top-shelf.
But the one-goal lead lasted for just 2:42.
It was Hintz who responded, scoring his 10th of the playoffs. Dallas’ top line took advantage of a matchup with Karlsson on the bench and went to work; it was a full-line goal from one of the best lines in hockey, and Hintz’s top-shelf laser evened things up at 2-2 just over four minutes into the frame.
Dallas continued to push, but the Golden Knights scored the go-ahead goal 5:19 later to take a 3-2 lead on a rare goal by the fourth line. Teddy Blueger got his first of the playoffs, cashing in on Keegan Kolesar’s rebound.
The crease was crowded when Blueger put it into the cage, but Dallas elected not to challenge since Miro Heiskanen and Suter appeared to pull Kolesar down.
The Golden Knights almost took the first two-goal lead of the game when Jack Eichel and Ivan Barbashev had a 2-on-1, but Oettinger did enough to keep the puck out of the net. Kolesar and Blueger teamed up for another strong scoring chance but were unable to convert.
Those were just two of Vegas’ many missed chances on the night, and they paved the way for Dallas to tie it once again.
With Oettinger on the bench, the Stars won a battle in front; out of the scramble, the puck leaked through to Benn, who slid it under Hill at the side of the net with 1:59 remaining in regulation.
Oettinger had to come up with a huge pad stop on Reilly Smith, but Game 1 required extra time.
Dallas pushed back in the third with a 16-8 edge in shots and 29-15 advantage in shot attempts (including on the 6-on-5). The Golden Knights had their chances but were unable to cash in.
Vegas sat back with the one-goal lead, and Dallas outworked the Golden Knights down low to force extra time. As he has throughout the postseason, Heiskanen led all skaters in ice time through 60 minutes (28:18).
One night after Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final required four overtimes, it took just 95 seconds for sudden-death overtime between the Golden Knights and Stars to come to an end.
Howden won it for Vegas 1:35 into extra time with his third goal of the playoffs, banking the puck off Oettinger from behind the net. All three members of the Stephenson line contributed on the goal, and Stone made a particularly impressive backhand pass to set up Howden. Though Howden missed the initial chance, he followed his shot and showed no hesitation going right back to the net.
Howden had a quiet series against Edmonton after being more of a factor in the first-round matchup against Winnipeg, but he was the overtime hero in Game 1.
The Golden Knights delivered a very strong performance in Game 1. It came down to the wire, but this was not an evenly-played game.
Of course, the only thing that matters at the end of the day is the score; in that case, this was as close as it gets.
However, Vegas did a lot of things well and controlled the game for most of the night.
The Golden Knights finished the game with a 60.38 percent scoring chance share (32-21) and 68.75 percent high-danger Corsi share (11-5) at 5-on-5. The forecheck was excellent, and Vegas’ neutral-zone play was stellar. The penalty kill also was fantastic.
“[The forecheck has] been a big key to our success in the entire playoffs, and when we’ve gotten to that part of our game, we’ve been a real good team,” Bruce Cassidy said after the game.
“That’s our game, and we’re not trying to hide from it. Hopefully we still get a few rush chances built in there. … We did have some 2-on-1’s to put the game away by winning board battles, … so some of those opportunities are certainly there. But I think it starts with playing behind them and then forechecking as a group of five.”
Once again, depth played a key role for Vegas.
After all, Howden scored the game-winner, and Vegas got a huge goal from the fourth line in the third period.
“It can’t always be the stars or the guys that you would expect, and that’s what’s been good about our team,” Cassidy said. “We’ve had different people step up in key moments. It’s the time of the year where you’ve got to enjoy the moment and kind of embrace it. … That’s why we’ve been able to win.”
Two of those depth players who embraced the moment in Game 1 – Blueger and Howden – also spoke about the value of Vegas’ depth.
“I think we have really good depth, so whoever is in can do the job,” Blueger said. “I think you need that this time of year, to get different contributions from different guys.”
Howden echoed those sentiments.
“We can kind of roll our lines however we want any night, so it’s a real boost for us and it obviously gives us confidence that anybody can be out there at any moment.”
When all was said and done, the Golden Knights got goals from three out of four lines; two from Karlsson, one from Blueger and the game-winner from Howden. The Eichel line was the only line that didn’t score, though it came away with an 85.46 percent expected goal share and had plenty of prime scoring chances, including a 2-on-1 late in the third period. If that line can put away a few of the many chances it generated (in a game-high 14:04 of ice time), that will go a long way for Vegas moving forward.
Also, 10 different skaters found the scoresheet for the Golden Knights: Karlsson, Nicolas Roy, Stephenson, Stone, Howden, Blueger, Kolesar, Whitecloud, Pietrangelo and Martinez.
By contrast, the Stars’ production came courtesy of just four: the top line of Hintz, Joe Pavelski and Robertson as well as Benn.
Karlsson’s line flourished once again. Like in the Edmonton series, matching the Karlsson line against Dallas’ top line will be imperative for Vegas.
The trio of Karlsson, Smith and Roy led 18-8 in Corsi, 9-4 in scoring chances, 12-4 in shots and 2-1 in goals in 12:51; the Dallas goal scored with that line on the ice came off the strange bounce in the first period.
Hintz came as advertised; he was involved in all three goals and now leads the league in postseason scoring with 22 points. Oettinger made timely saves and was the main reason this game was so close throughout; however, he yielded four goals for the fourth time in the last eight games.
Cassidy continues to push the right buttons; his decision during the Edmonton series to move Roy to the second line and insert Blueger into the lineup continues to pay off, and the Golden Knights showed zero signs of panic at any point in this game. After getting off to rough starts in almost every game of the second round, Vegas started all four periods with a strong push and looked ready to go from the first puck drop in Game 1 against Dallas.
There were a few areas of concern for the Golden Knights, one of which was discipline early on; though the two first-period penalties didn’t lead to goals and weren’t overly egregious, they still played a role in shifting the momentum of an otherwise-dominant opening frame for Vegas.
The power play also reverted and was completely ineffective. That’s to be expected against a strong Dallas penalty kill, and the Stars had the clear edge in special teams coming into the series. However, there could be moments later in this matchup when the Vegas power play will need to be significantly better. It showed up late in the series against the Oilers, but it’s off to a rough start in the third round. No matter what, the Golden Knights will be best served keeping this series at 5-on-5 as much as possible.
The game went to overtime despite the fact that the Golden Knights outplayed Dallas for most of the night. That’s more indicative of Dallas’ overall defensive game as well as Oettinger capabilities, but at this time of year, every bounce counts.
That’s why Vegas will need to find a way to bury chances, especially early; Dallas uncharacteristically gave up a lot of chances throughout the contest, which DeBoer likely will clean up as the series moves forward.
At the end of the day, the Golden Knights worked for the win and now hold a 1-0 series lead as a result of a strong effort from throughout the lineup.
They will look to do the same in Game 2 on Sunday.