“They haven’t played a team like us boys, not in their first two rounds. They’re in for a rude awakening.” These bold words from Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn seemed like a daunting prophecy, especially after the Stars smashed the Knights last Sunday in what was possibly Vegas’s worst postseason loss. With their top six forwards silent for a few games, causing an increasingly worrisome goal drought, doubt clouded Vegas yet again. After a dismal four goals during their last four games, two of which were into empty nets, it was clear that the Knights needed to do something different to beat the highly physical and well-defended Dallas Stars.
Head Coach Peter Deboer had that same mindset, and tweaked the lines accordingly. Alex Tuch was moved up to the second line with Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone. Max Pacioretty was dropped to the third line with Paul Stastny and Nicolas Roy. Goalkeeper Robin Lehner made his return, now well rested and coming off a shutout from his last start in Game 7 against the Vancouver Canucks. The lineup was set and Game 2 was underway.
The first period of action saw a huge change to Vegas’ playstyle. Their speed had returned, placing pressure on the forecheck with Reave’s return and putting up several shots on the goal. Although passing could’ve used more precision and the power play opportunities weren’t great, it was clear that this was a whole new team. While Dallas keeper Anton Khudobin had some great looks, Lehner did not have quite as busy of a period. Following an unfortunate miss by Roy that would’ve put the Knights in front, both teams headed back into the locker rooms scoreless.
The Golden Knights came out swinging after the break and had what might be one of the best periods in the entire playoffs. Vegas was sending shot after shot into Khudobin’s net until finally, Pacioretty set up Statsny to give the Knights a 1-0 lead. Not only did this end their goal drought, but it was the first forward goal in the last 276 minutes of playtime. The Stars were stunned, committing several unnecessary penalties in a desperate attempt to recover the game. The Knights were able to capitalize on one of those power plays just under four minutes later. Karlsson snuck a shot just under Khudobin’s left pad, giving Vegas a commanding 2-0 lead. Shea Theodore would do just the same on another power play, but his goal would be disallowed due to goaltending interference by Pacioretty. The Knights didn’t let this set them back, however, scoring a beautiful tic-tac-toe goal on a breakaway that extended their lead to 3-0. Vegas closed off the period by killing the Dallas power play and even getting a few shorthanded opportunities while doing so.
The final period was a standout for the Knights keeper. Lehner was unstoppable, ending all seven odd-man rushes by the Stars. While the rest of the Knights didn’t manage to match their spectacular second period, they still controlled the neutral zone and prevented Dallas from creating too many chances. Dallas reserve Jake Oettinger was substituted in relief of Khudobin, stopping all four Vegas shots that came his way. The whistle blew and Lehner secured his fourth post-season shutout, this time registering 24 saves.
The Western Conference Final is now even, with one win apiece for the Knights and the Stars. In order to secure the series, Vegas will need to continue to play with their reestablished speed and confidence. Dallas, on the other hand, will have to re-evaluate their strategy if they want to move on to the Stanley Cup Final. Be sure to tune in and watch your Golden Knights in Game 3 on Thursday, and perhaps most importantly of all, take advantage of the Golden Knight’s Krispy Kreme promotion to celebrate yesterday’s victory!