EDMONTON — The Vegas Golden Knights had gone four games and a period without a single one of their forwards scoring goal that wasn’t into an empty net. That’s right: two shots that beat the goalie, dating back to Game 5 against Vancouver — both by defenceman Shea Theodore.
Their shooting percentage in those four games? How far does a 2.63 per cent success rate get you in Vegas?
So, when Paul Stastny buried a pass from Max Pacioretty nearly five minutes into the second period Tuesday, you got the feeling it wouldn’t be the last time Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin found himself digging the ol’ vulcanized rubber out of his net.
By the time the second period was over, William Karlson and Tomas Nosek had also beaten Khudobin, who watched the third period of a 3-0 loss from the bench after a mercy pull by head coach Rick Bowness. This series is now tied 1-1, and if there was any doubt whether the Golden Knights had lost their hands, well, the mitts arrived in this Conference Final Tuesday night in Edmonton.
“I think I’ve been around the game long enough, seen lots of games,” Stastny, the 945-game, second-generation NHLer began. “We were playin’ the right way. It’s not like we weren’t getting chances. We had a lot of good looks. You keep getting those chances and it’s going to come eventually. You’ve got to stick with it, and we stuck with our game.”
His goal came on a patient feed from Pacioretty and was followed three-and-half minutes later by Karlsson’s powerplay goal. Then the Golden Knights’ Bottom 6 tic-tac-toed their way through the Stars zone like the French Connection, scoring a beauty that put this game on ice for Vegas.
“A perfect example,” Stastny said of the Pacioretty feed. “If we’re getting too frustrated, there are times when Patchy will shoot that as quickly as he can, just to get a puck on net. But he takes that extra second. Or (Nosek’s) goal. It’s three one-touch passes. It’s confidence. It’s always been there.”
After a series opener that saw Vegas sleep-walk through 40 minutes with just 12 shots on goal, the Golden Knights turned this series on its head with a far, far more concerted effort in Game 2. By the time 40 minutes had passed the score was 3-0, and poetically, it was the Stars that were stuck on 12 shots through two periods.
“We took charge in the first game, first period, right away,” said Stars winger Mattias Janmark. “Today was a little bit reversed. I think we hung on in the first… eventually when you’re on your heels you’re going to get scored on, and we did. And they kept rolling. They were in charge all game.”
This is why they play seven-game series, so the momentum can be passed back and forth until one team simply cannot grab it back anymore. Dallas came out with an excellent defensive game in the opener, and Vegas answered by overpowering Dallas with the “come at you in waves” offensive style they prefer.
But unlike in Game 1, when Ryan Reaves was serving a one-game suspension for a head shot on Vancouver’s Tyler Motte, the Stars had to deal with the big guy Tuesday. His line, with Nosek and William Carrier, starts every game for Vegas coach Pete DeBoer.
They’re big, they’re intimidating, they can skate, and…
“They start on time,” DeBoer said. “They’re ready to play an hour before the puck drops, and when the pucks drops you’re just opening the gate and they’re going. I don’t think it’s an accident that we didn’t start them (in Game 1) and we didn’t have a great start.”
You could hear Reaves chirping the Dallas players throughout the night, a bully who knows the Stars don’t have anyone who can deal with him physically. Credit John Klingberg for filling in the six-foot-one, 225-pound Winnipegger in the first period with a hard check that was deemed interference. But in terms of standing up to Reaves, Dallas just does not have that player.
With Reaves establishing his presence, it was the start of the Golden Knights doing likewise in a series that now becomes a best-of-five.
“Tonight we got our game back,” DeBoer said. “We got that first goal, and I thought we looked like we normally do. Making plays, finding space, and sticking pucks in the net.”
Now, it’s the Stars’ turn to push back. We’ll see what they’ve got on Thursday night.