The Vegas Golden Knights are now one win away from a berth in the Stanley Cup Final after shutting out the Dallas Stars 4-0 in Game 3 at American Airlines Center on Tuesday night. Even though these two teams appeared to be an even match on paper, the series has been one-sided on the scoreboard.
Now, the Stars must string together three straight victories to force a winner-take-all Game 7, then win that contest to return to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2020. Even though that task seems daunting, it is possible since Dallas has had two four-game and one six-game win streak this season, so despite being considered left for dead, there is still a chance this series continues.
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However, before anyone gets ahead of themselves, we have to look at what went wrong in Game 3 with their season on the line, so here are a few takeaways from the Stars’ recent 4-0 loss.
Jamie Benn’s Match Penalty Significantly Alters Game & Series
Since 2013-14 Jamie Benn has proudly worn the captain’s “C” on his sweater. As one of the franchise’s best players, someone who is closing in on all of Mike Modano’s club records, watching him ejected just two minutes into a critical Game 3 set the Stars up to fail with their season on the line.
Although Benn is no stranger to roughing it up with opponents, his cross-checking major and ejection at the beginning of the game hurt the Stars in many ways. Even though they were already down 1-0 at that point, watching the captain, whose team was trailing 2-0 in a series, step over the line and get kicked out was one of the worst things to happen. Whether it is considered selfish or an attempt to fire up the team, whatever the motivation was behind the hit, it backfired and was ultimately the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Luckily, the Golden Knights only scored one goal during their lengthy five-minute powerplay. However, the air was already out of the building by this point, and the Stars never recovered after falling behind 2-0. Eventually, the team imploded in seven minutes, falling behind 3-0 without their leader on the bench to keep up the morale, especially after the goaltender switch.
Now, we will wait for word from the league regarding Benn’s possible suspension, which will once again leave the Stars without an impact player in what could be their final game of the 2022-23 season.
Jake Oettinger Melts Down at Worse Possible Time
Throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, hockey analysts have praised Jake Oettinger and his efforts to win big games, especially his ability to bounce back from losses. After suffering two consecutive defeats for the first time this postseason, fans and experts were expecting a solid performance from the 24-year-old in this pivotal Game 3.
Unfortunately, Tuesday night was not Oettinger’s night, as he didn’t finish the first period after surrendering three goals on five shots. Instead of giving the hometown crowd a game to remember, he sat on the bench with a ball cap and watched Scott Wedgewood come in and stop the bleeding.
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Ultimately, his team is in a significant deficit because he hasn’t played well enough to win, giving up ten goals and posting a .848 save percentage (SV%) in just 129:41 of playing time in this series. So far, in his 166 games in the NHL (regular season and playoffs), Oettinger had never had a contest with a sub .700 SV% until Game 3, when he departed with a career-worst .400 SV%, making only two saves on five shots.
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Sadly, just when the Stars were on the brink of going down 3-0 in the series, the team had hoped to bounce back from consecutive overtime losses and use the energy of their fans to get back into the series. Unfortunately, their franchise goalie could not stop the Golden Knights’ momentum and had one of the worst performances of his young career, driving his team into one of the deepest holes possible, one they may never climb back out of.
Stars Self-Implode With Season on the Line
After surrendering the first goal of the game, at 1:11, for the first time in the Western Conference Final, the Stars unraveled in record time resulting in being shut out for the first time this postseason. Although a 1-0 deficit is easily manageable, their captain got tossed from the game, forcing the Stars to kill a penalty for five minutes. Luckily the Golden Knights only registered three shots and a goal during the man advantage, but after the kill, the team imploded.
Even though teams often come back from 2-0 deficits, especially with two and half periods left to play, the Stars gave up another goal at 7:10, putting the game away with about 53 minutes to play. Interestingly, they never looked like a team chasing the game on the scoreboard. However, frustration set in, and they didn’t try to avoid the penalty box for the rest of the contest. Ultimately, Vegas ended the night going 1-for-6 on the powerplay, with the Stars collecting 35 penalty minutes, the third-highest total of the playoffs, which dropped their record to 1-2 in contests with at least 30 minutes.
Whether it was tripping or cross-checking penalties, the Stars couldn’t have done more to give the Golden Knights opportunities to collect a few more goals. However, at the end of the game, the visitors finished the night with only 16 shots, almost half of what the home team finished with (34).
Right now, the analysis of this series has been the bounces are going for the Golden Knights, and the Stars can’t catch a break. Sure, some of that statement is true, but it’s not like Dallas has done itself any favors with sloppy play, questionable penalties, and subpar goaltending. If the Stars fail to advance, there will be a lot to dissect from this series, and it simply won’t be “they got beat by a better team.”
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The Stars will prepare for Game 4 on Thursday night, hoping to become just the fifth team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit. Despite the odds, there has never been a team to achieve this feat in the conference final, which means they could make history with four consecutive wins. Puck drop at American Airlines Center is at 8:00 pm EST.