The Dallas Stars just put a stranglehold on the Western Conference Final by defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 4. The Golden Knights were a heavy favorite in this series and have seemed to struggle with the pressure of being down 0-1 and then 1-2. Though they outshot the Stars 33-20, they could not get the timely goals when they needed to.
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In Games 1-3, the team who scored first won. The Stars withstood a Golden Knights power play after going down by one goal to rally back with two goals in the second period. The pressure was already on the Golden Knights, but now it will be intensified as there is no margin for error. Here are my takeaways from Game 4.
Khudobin Continues to be the Difference
It’s not like Robin Lehner has been bad. He has a .927 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.72 goals-against average (GAA) in the series. Just about any team would take that performance in the playoffs. Per Natural Stat Trick, Lehner is even saving 3.07 goals above expected (GSAx). Not only has he not been bad, but he’s also been pretty spectacular. Even Marc-Andre Fleury, who played Game 1, had a .950 SV%, a 1.21 GAA, and .22 GSAx.
The problem for the Golden Knights is that Anton Khudobin is playing out of his mind. His .965 SV% and 1.03 GAA jump off the page, but to me, it’s his 5.18 GSAx that is most incredible. According to Evolving Hockey, Khudobin now ranks 6th in the NHL in GSAx behind Thatcher Demko, Carey Price, Carter Hart, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Jacob Markstrom. Except for Vasilevskiy, Khudobin has played more minutes than the rest of the goalies, which definitely counts for bonus points. If Khudobin continues to play like this, the Stars have a real shot at their first Cup since 1999.
Pavelski Continues to Contribute
Joe Pavelski has a knack for scoring timely goals. The Stars were looking like they were ceding momentum to the Golden Knights in the second period, but his goal completely turned the tide. Sure, it was a lucky deflection, but he was in the right spot and put the puck on the net.
According to Quant Hockey, Pavelski is now just two goals shy of tying Mike Modano for 3rd all-time in playoff goals by American born players. At the time, it seemed like a bit of an overpayment for the aging Pavelski, but it sure has paid off on this playoff run. I’m sure the Stars management won’t care one bit if they are drinking from Lord Stanley’s Cup in a few weeks. Not bad for a 7th round draft pick from 2003.
Janmark-Pavelski-Gurianov Continue to be the Key
According to Charting Hockey, the trio of Mattias Janmark, Pavelski, and Denis Gurianov have been one of the best lines in the playoffs. They are by far the best line on the Stars. If you correct for those who have played 100 minutes together, Janmark-Pavelski-Gurianov are second only to Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov.
Their expected goal percent (xGF%) is 66, only topped by Palat-Point-Kucherov’s 68. The xGF% is a measure of expected goals in favor by expected goals against. The higher the number the better and it’s worth noting Janmark-Pavelski-Gurianov are ahead of the Jonathan Marchessault, Paul Stastny, Reilly Smith line and the Nick Cousins, Nicolas Roy, and Alex Tuch line, both which are right behind them at 59% each.
Stanley Cup Bound
Per Hockey Reference, only 9.1% of NHL teams have led a series 3-1 and lost. The Golden Knights certainly have the caliber team to make that comeback and they do have a combined team shooting and save percentage of .967 for the series. This metric tends to regress to one over time, but in a short series like this, it may not. Any number under one is considered unlucky and any number over one is considered lucky. The Stars, for the record, are getting a bit lucky at 1.033.
While no chickens should be counted just yet, there is a very good chance the Stars will get to play for the Stanley Cup in 2020.