Game 7 of their second-round series in the Edmonton bubble was instantly one of the most memorable games in franchise history as the Dallas Stars advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2008 with a wild, 5-4 overtime win over the Colorado Avalanche.
The series itself was a throwback to the era of 80’s & 90’s hockey as the two teams combined for 58 goals over the seven games – the most in any series since 1995 (Calgary & San Jose combined for 61 goals).
At the end of it all, it wasn’t Jamie Benn or Tyler Seguin or Nathan MacKinnon or any of the other familiar faces in the series that was the difference-maker in this game. It was Joel Kiviranta who had the hero cape on under his uniform and scored not one, not two, but three goals in one of the most bizarro Game 7’s that we have ever seen. You are forgiven if you weren’t familiar with the undrafted, 24-year-old kid from Finland before Friday.
“I think what Kivi did was pretty spectacular,” Benn would say after the game. “Those are the things you dream about when you’re a kid…and that just became a reality for him.”
More on him later though as we take you through our seven takeaways from the win by the Stars that sets up a date with the Vegas Golden Knights in the West Finals.
1. Gutsy Win After Last Year’s Game 7 Loss
Last season in the second round the Stars bowed out in seven games against the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. In that series, they had some quick-strike, late comebacks, won a Game 6 to force a Game 7, and then got the doors blown off in that game by a 6-1 score.
This season they nearly blew a 3-1 series lead and with just minutes left in regulation, they were staring another second-round exit straight in the face. It could have all gone wrong. But it didn’t. Survive and advance is the name of the game, and that’s just what they did. Maybe some of what happened to them last year was fuel on their fire, or maybe it’s just an unpredictable game where the least likely guy to be a difference-maker ends up being…the difference-maker.
2. Khudobin Was Large and in Charge
It likely was overlooked with all that was going on during and following the game, but what a helluva game Anton Khudobin played in Game 7. He finished with 40 saves on 44 shots against a gritty Avs team that was playing without a plethora of regulars in their lineup.
After the first period, where Dallas trailed 2-1, Khudobin stopped 27 of the 29 shots that he faced – including four in overtime. The Stars had only one shot on goal in overtime, and we all know how that worked out.
Perhaps no save was more memorable than when Khudobin stopped Matt Nieto on a breakaway just seconds after Kiviranta had netted his first goal of the game.
3. Kiviranta is an Instant Hero
Joel Kiviranta from Andrej Sekera and Jamie Oleksiak. That’s how the winning goal reads in the boxscore. If that isn’t the most playoff-y goal that there ever was. The unlikely hero is always lurking in the NHL Playoffs and this was Kiviranta’s time to shine. His Game 7 performance was reminiscent of Mike Rupp’s two-goal, Game 7 performance for the New Jersey Devils in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final, but on steroids.
Entering Game 7 Kiviranta had played two games in the bubble (Aug. 9, Aug. 20) and had 11 games of NHL experience under his belt. He scored one goal (Feb. 1 at New Jersey) and spent the majority of the season (48 games) in the AHL with the Texas Stars. He was only in the lineup because Andrew Cogliano was unfit to play.
He became the third rookie in NHL history to score an overtime goal in a Game 7 – joining Claude Lemieux in 1986 and Adam Henrique in 2012.
Kiviranta is the first player in NHL history to score each of his first three career postseason goals in the same game. He is only the seventh player in NHL history – and the only rookie – to score a hat trick in a Game 7. The last guy to do it is someone you may have heard of. Some guy named Wayne Gretzky did it for the Los Angeles Kings way back in 1993. We hear he’s kind of good.
Finally, the Stars are the first team in NHL history to feature multiple rookies with a hat trick in a playoff year. Kiviranta obviously did it and eliminated the Avs, and Denis Gurianov did it (actually scored four) in Game 6 of their first-round series against the Calgary Flames.
4. Injuries Catch Up to Avalanche
During the series forwards Matt Calvert, Joonas Donskoi, Gabriel Landeskog, defensemen Erik Johnson and Conor Timmins, and goaltenders Phillip Grubauer and Pavel Francouz all missed some kind of time for Colorado.
Dallas was also missing key players – goaltender Ben Bishop, forward Andrew Cogliano, and defensemen Stephen Johns and Taylor Fedun all sat out Game 7.
The Avalanche battled hard in the series and who knows what the result would have been if they had a full and healthy roster. But that is what playoff hockey is all about. Next Man Up. A war of attrition. At the end of the day, Dallas was able to advance probably because they were a tad less banged up.
5. Avs Game 7 Woes Continue
Colorado has now lost five consecutive Game 7’s. The last time they won a Game 7 was back in 2002 against the San Jose Sharks. During the Nathan MacKinnon era, they have lost three straight Game 7’s. Speaking of MacKinnon, after 14 straight games with a point to start the playoffs (9g-16a) the superstar was held without a point in Game 7 against Dallas.
He carried the Avs on his back for a long time in the bubble and though he had some clutch help from Nazem Kadri, Vlad Namestinkov, and Andre Burakovsky in Game 7, it just wasn’t enough to get them into the next round.
6. Radulov Was Rad
After opening the series with five points (3g-2a) in the first two games, Alexander Radulov recorded just one assist in Games 3-6. But when they needed him most Radulov responded with two huge power-play goals in Game 7.
The first one opened the scoring in the game, and by the end of it felt like a decade prior, and his second tied the game for the Stars nearly 12 minutes into the third period.
The Stars will need more performances like that from Radulov (and the other top guns) in the next round against Vegas. He will enter that round with 11 points (7g-4a) in 16 games so far this postseason.
7. Battling Back
There was never any quit in these Dallas Stars. Not in the first round, not in the second round, and definitely not in Game 7. After Radulov scored in the third period, Colorado retook the lead with 3:40 left in regulation time. All seemed lost. For about ten seconds. Literally.
Ten seconds after Namestinkov netted his second of the game and gave the Avs a 4-3 lead, Kiviranta buried the tying goal and set the stage for him to really be the hero about an hour (of real-time) later.
This game was tied 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, and 4-4. The only time Dallas led in Game 7 was at 1-0 (that lasted 69 seconds) and when Kiviranta’s shot hit the back of the net in overtime.
The West Finals start on Sunday night with Game 1 in the Edmonton bubble. With Game 1 of the East Finals expected to start Monday night, it is likely that Game 2 will take place on Tuesday night. The Stars will be the designated home team in Game 3, Game 4, and if necessary, in Game 6.