Game 3 was set up to be a fantastic game. The Golden Knights returned the Dallas Stars’ Game 1 shutout with one of their own in Game 2. Vegas goalkeeper Robin Lehner was riding back-to-back shutouts in his last two starts. Dallas, on the other hand, maintained hopes that their keeper Anton Khudobin would come up big like his first match in these Western Conference Finals.
One factor had haunted Vegas all post-season – the first goal. Vegas had only lost one playoff game when scoring first but was victorious only once when conceding the first goal. Adding to the tension was an intimidating series-specific statistic – the first to score wins the game. It was imperative that Vegas score and score first. Vegas coach Peter Deboer maintained the same lineup and keeper as the prior game hoping to simulate his Game 2 success. The ref’s whistle echoed through Rogers Place in Edmonton and the puck dropped. It was Knight Time.
The first period of action was rather uneventful. The Vegas defense was a bit shaky, but Lehner held his own. Dallas played better than at any point during Game 2, but some real sloppy passes from both sides limited the quality of play. Vegas even committed some unnecessary penalties but they were successful at killing them off. After twenty minutes, the officials ended what was a sloppy and mediocre period of hockey.
The Stars had their best performance in the second period, causing Vegas to consistently be on their heels. Lehner came up big with a marvelous save on a Dallas odd-man rush and carried the struggling defense. VGK was drowning in Stars shots and they only got breathing room during power plays. However, towards the end of the period, the Knights picked themselves back up. Mark Stone was brilliant in his recovery of pucks in the neutral zone, igniting a spark for Vegas. But here came the first unlucky moment of the evening. With only seventeen seconds left in the period, Stars forward Jamie Oleksiak tipped the puck towards the Knights’ goal during yet another odd-man rush. It slowly rolled off Lehner’s left pad and slid right into the back of the net. Dallas had the first goal and the 1-0 lead. Could this be it? Was the game already lost? It sure felt like it as the Golden Knights dismally entered the locker room.
Coming back out to the ice for the final period, Vegas was facing a monstrous challenge. They would have to come from behind and win it for the first time since Game 5 against the Chicago Blackhawks. That was in the first round – nearly three weeks ago. Things certainly were not looking good, but the Knights seemed completely unfazed by the curse. Vegas was looking like their old selves again. Dallas committed two consecutive penalties, giving the Knights the 5-on-3 man advantage they needed. Surely enough, star defenseman Shea Theodore launched a rocket right over Khudobin’s right shoulder. Déja vu anyone?
The Golden Knights were back in the game! At least they would be, for only three pitiful minutes. Along came the second unlucky event. During Vegas’ best stretch of the game, the Stars had a breakaway counter-attack. Stars captain Jamie Benn’s shot bent the left pad of Lehner and forced its way inside the goal. Dallas reestablished their lead. Surely this was it. Being down once took a tremendous effort to come back from, and that was with the help of some well-timed Dallas penalties. Could the Knights do it again?
They sure believed so. The Golden Knights kept up their game and created deadly opportunities. Dallas keeper Khudobin gave his best effort to prevent his team from losing their lead a second time. Vegas forward Alex Tuch sure didn’t care about that though. Tuch wrapped around Khudobin’s net and Mark Stone was able to redirect the puck into the goal. Incredible. The Knights had climbed the mountain twice. The momentum was in their favor and they would continue to outplay the Stars for the remainder of the period. For the first time this post-season, the Golden Knights would enter overtime.
Vegas did it. This is how a team should react when they’re trailing. Their resilience would be inspirational if they could secure the game in overtime. The Knights simply had to carry over their momentum from the third period to try and take the series lead.
Unfortunately, for the final time that evening, the Stars would get their seventh odd-man rush. Forward Alexander Radulov would strike the best shot the Stars had all series off of Lehner’s far corner. Only a measly 31 seconds into overtime, the Knights’ tenacity and determination got thrown out the window. A truly frustrating end to a great game by the Golden Knights.
The Dallas Stars now hold a 2-1 series lead. The Knights will need to work on their defense if they want to prevent the Stars from getting easy scoring chances. Coach Deboer will have to make a difficult choice. Although Lehner had a solid performance, he did allow three shots to enter his goal. Does that justify the return of franchise keeper Marc-André Fleury? An extremely difficult decision to make, especially with the threat of a 3-1 Dallas Stars lead. Tune in on Saturday (9/12) for Game 4!