The game plan coming into the West Finals likely wasn’t to win the game 1-0, but after scoring on their first shot that’s just how this game evolved and one goal was all that the Dallas Stars needed to win Game 1 over the Vegas Golden Knights. The Stars stifled and stymied the Golden Knights in all three zones for about 45 minutes before their opponents finally woke up and started to generate more offense. But it was too little and too late.
Only a total of five players on both teams (four on Dallas, one on Vegas) didn’t record a hit in the game. It started early with Stars captain Jamie Benn, and he also helped get the scoring started. His shot was blocked in the slot and John Klingberg swooped in and was, well Johnny on the Spot, retrieved the loose puck and wired a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury just 2:36 into the game.
Quite the different start to this series than the last one for Dallas, eh? With the Stars now three wins away from their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years, here are my three takeaways from their 1-0 Game 1 triumph over the Golden Knights.
1. Vegas Looked Flat
Both teams last played on Friday, winning their respective Game 7s. But if you watched Game 1 from jump street, it looked like the Stars played a week ago and the Golden Knights played earlier that day. Vegas had no energy, very little sustained pressure, and Dallas was keeping their chances to the outside for the most part. After two periods the Golden Knights only had recorded 12 shots on goal. This is a team that had at least 33 shots on goal in each of their last nine games leading up to Game 1.
“We knew the start of the game was going to be important tonight and I thought our group came out with a good effort,” said Benn, who had four hits, after the game.
Yes, Ryan Reaves was out of the lineup for Vegas (serving a one-game suspension) but he doesn’t give the team that much energy. Where was Mark Stone (zero shots on goal)? We’ve seen him be a difference-maker in the postseason before (17 career playoff goals), but in Game 1 I don’t think I really heard his name until the final ten minutes.
This trend likely won’t last and we all expect the real Golden Knights to show up for Game 2. This could be an important victory for the Stars though – to get a leg up on their adversaries early in the series. We all saw what happened for both teams in the previous round when they raced out to early series’ leads.
2. Dobby and the PK Looked Sharp
The penalty killers for Dallas were phenomenal in Game 1, holding the Golden Knights power play 0-4. Goaltender Anton Khudobin only needed to make three of his 25 saves in the game with his team shorthanded, thanks to their ability to block shots and forcing Vegas into taking penalties. The defense corps combined for a total of ten blocked shots and dished out 17 of their team’s 47 hits.
“Dobby stepped up today and played a great game, he won the game for us,” said Klingberg after the game during his postgame availability. “We gave them a little too much life in the third period, but we’ll take it and move on. We’re up 1-0 in the series.”
When he was called upon Khudobin continued his remarkable story this postseason, and he was really tested over the final twenty minutes when the Golden Knights really tried to ramp up the pressure. As it stands now the Stars goaltender has to be in the discussion for the Conn Smythe Trophy, if not at the head of that discussion. Where would Dallas be without him? Home. That’s probably where.
“It’s awesome when guys are battling in front of you. When they are blocking shots. When they have bruises and are laying down, forechecking, hitting guys. It’s unbelievable,” replied Khudibin when asked about his teammates in front of him restricting shots that he has to face.
When asked if his first career playoff shutout had any extra special meaning, Khudobin shrugged and said, “It always goes to your career record, but at the same time, most of all I’m happy with the win. It’s a bonus I would say, but if we win 2-1, or 3-2 it doesn’t matter. For me, the win is most important.”
3. Young Guns
After his epic hat trick in Game 7 rookie, Joel Kiviranta was hoping he could stay in the lineup for a few more games. With Andrew Cogliano still unfit to play, the rookie did indeed play in Game 1 of the West Finals. His line, along with Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov, was a presence all night long and was probably the best line for Dallas.
The trio combined for eight shots on goal, ten hits, had two blocked shots and drew two penalties. None of them played more than 12:45, but their impact was clear and present. With the big line of Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov broken up for the second straight game the R-D-J line (?) were difference makers in the Game 1 win. Who knows if it’s sustainable, but in the playoffs, you need different players to step up on different nights and this was their night.
“Our objective is to come here and win the Stanley Cup,” said Stars interim head coach Rick Bowness after Game 1. “So regardless of the opponent, there’s no real animosity yet – that will develop as the series goes on. We know Vegas is a great hockey club, and you have to be ready from the drop of the puck. Give our guys a lot of credit, they did a great job preparing themselves (for a different opponent after ending a seven-game series two days prior).”
The puck drops on Game 2 on Tuesday, Sept. 8, Game 3 is Sept. 10, and Game 4 is Saturday, Sept. 12. All games start at 8 pm ET/7 pm CT.