Golden Knights down Stars again, take 2-0 series lead

Jerome Miron -USA TODAY
The Golden Knights were the only team in this year’s playoffs to win their opener on the road. They doubled down on Wednesday night, beating the Stars 3-1.

DALLAS — The NHL’s boogeyman has officially arrived. 

After what can only be described as a tumultuous regular season, the Golden Knights have taken a 2-0 lead over the top-seeded Dallas Stars with a 3-1 victory Wednesday night in Game 2 of their best-of-seven first-round series.

The win presents a reality that many have come to accept over the last few weeks: When fully healthy and in playoff mode, the Knights are still among the best in the league. And still very much among the top tier of contenders who have a legitimate chance at lifting the Stanley Cup in June.

The series shifts to Las Vegas for games Saturday (7:30 p.m.) and Monday (time TBA) at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights rode a second-period goal from Noah Hanifin and a two-point effort from Jack Eichel all the way home, removing an early 1-0 deficit on their way to their third straight postseason win against the Stars dating to last season’s Western Conference Finals.

“We’re in a good spot,” Hanifin said. “But there’s still a lot of hockey left to be played.

“We’re happy to get back into our building and have that momentum on our side. It’s going to be be a huge, huge game for us coming up here in Game 3.”

Added Eichel: “It was a good effort. I think we expected them to come out and push hard through that first five 10 minutes and they did.

“They were physical. They played hard, they had some chances. (Thompson) made some big stops for us. Obviously they get the power play goal, but it was good. We responded, we’re able to come in here after the first period and it’s all tied. I thought it was overall a good road first period from us.”

Hanifin’s game-winning goal came with just over a minute left in the second period. Jonathan Marchessault had drawn the Knights even at 1-1 late in the first period, after Jason Robertson scored on the power play to give the Stars their first lead of the series 90 seconds earlier.

The second period was highlighted by two saves worthy of SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays, one coming from Dallas’ Jake Oettinger and the other from Logan Thompson. Before Hanifin broke through, it felt like we were going to see a heavyweight goalie battle for the rest of the evening. 

Speaking on his end of the save exchange, Thompson said “(Oettinger) obviously had a hell of a game tonight. He made a big save there on (Shea Theodore) and then they got an opportunity coming down.

“You know as a goalie, if they score that goal, that gives them a lot of momentum. Especially off of a big save like that. So, just just staying calm and knowing that they have a scoring chance and you just have to lock it down. I was lucky enough to make the save there hopefully swing momentum back in our favor.”

Added coach Bruce Cassidy: “We settled in eventually. You don’t want 1-0 to turn into 2-0, so we did a good job with that.

“So now you go into the intermission 1-1, and we know we haven’t been at our best, but we got through it. Now (from there), we can start building our momentum. … I saw a level of commitment there from the guys to get it done, and we did.”

The Stars held that lead for all of one minute and 22 seconds. They wouldn’t get it back.

Game 2 was further proof that the Knights might be an eighth seed in label, but they are far from the typical last team in the playoffs.

At the same time, it’s hard to not feel for the Stars. They played an absolutely stellar regular season and competed in the President’s Trophy race with the Rangers until the closing days of the regular season. 

Their reward was a date with the defending champions, who have just started to find their form. Even if they do pull off the comeback against a Knights team that has owned them as of late, the Western Conference gauntlet doesn’t appear to get all that much easier.

The fact they’ll surely be beat up and drained from an at-minimum six-game war with the Knights could very well be a dagger for any real Cup hopes anyway. 

“You’ve got to expect their best, right?,” Eichel said. “They’re gonna throw everything they have at us.

“They’re a great hockey team and I expect another tight game. I’m sure it’ll be a an awesome atmosphere. We obviously really enjoy playing in front of our fans at T-Mobile and I think everyone in the room is excited to get get get back there and play in our home barn.”