Golden Knights force Game 7 with thriller over Stars

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
The Sporting Tribune's Steve Carp writes Noah Hanifin's third-period goal was all the Golden Knights and Adin Hill needed in a shutout over Dallas.

LAS VEGAS — It took six games to deliver the kind of hockey everyone expected from the Golden Knights and Dallas Stars. But it was worth the wait.

Tight checking. Hard hitting. Opportunistic offense and great goaltending at both ends. Simply put, it was what the Stanley Cup Playoffs are supposed to be about.

After nearly 50 minutes of close calls, hit posts and near misses, something had to give. And it was the Knights who were able to break through on third-period goals from Noah Hanifin and Mark Stone to defeat the Stars 2-0 Friday night.

The result forced Game 7 at 4:30 p.m. Sunday in Dallas and the winner will advance to the second round to face Colorado.

“We were a hard team to play against (tonight),” said Hanifin, whose goal with 10:06 remaining broke a scoreless deadlock. “We want to carry that momentum into Sunday.” 

There’s going to be a world championship fight here Saturday night and if Canelo Alvarez and Jamie Munguia can put on half as good a show as the Knights and Stars did, the patrons will leave satisfied. That’s how high the guys on skates set the bar Friday.

Hill, who stopped all 23 shots he faced in earning the shutout to even the series at 3-3, said he felt comfortable in a do-or-die situation and his teammates helped make his job easier.

“I‘ve always had confidence in my game,” he said. “I thought I was decent in Game 5 (a 3-2 loss). But (tonight) was a good game.

“The guys did a good job in front of me and I just tried to stay calm and focus on the next shot.”

Hill had his best sequence in the second period, stopping Tyler Seguin on a breakaway, denying Evgenii Dadonov on the rebound and then stopping Seguin a second time before the Knights got control.

“We played well in front of him but remade some big stops,” Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said of Hill, who will start in goal Sunday. “It’s been one of those series where both goalies have played well.”

The Knights put constant pressure on Stars goalie Jake Oettinger, forcing him to come up big time and again to keep his team in it. They hit the post a couple of times and there were moments where the Stars came back the other way with opportunities to score, only to be denied by Hill.

“That’s going to happen,” Cassidy said. “But I thought we did a good job of sticking to our game and eventually we were rewarded.”

Hanifin’s goal, the first registered by Vegas in the third period in the six games of this series, was a combination of patience on his part and teammate Keegan Kolesar setting up a screen in front of Oettinger. As Hanifin skated into open space by the right faceoff circle, he had time to measure his shot; by the time Oettinger saw it, it was took late as the puck sailed past him into the top corner.

“He’s a good hockey player,” Cassidy said of Hanifin, who the Knights picked up from Calgary at the NHL trade deadline in March. “He’s done a good job.

“We need a goal and he delivered. Good on him.”

The Knights sent 29 shots at Oettinger but it was the one he didn’t face that sealed the deal in Game 6. Stone got to the puck first while Dallas had a sixth skater in the final minute, looking to force overtime. The Vegas captain was on his own goal line when he sent the puck out of the zone, across the red line and into the empty net with 18.7 seconds remaining. That sent the 18,432 in attendance home happy.

“Everybody was pulling their weight,” Stone said of how his team staved off elimination, which included blocking 15 shots in helping out Hill. “We didn’t sit on our heels like we had sometimes in the past. We did a good job of taking away their rush game.

“We had our turnovers but we didn’t turn it over in too many bad spots. We didn’t give up ton of looks to them once we got the lead.”

Give Vegas credit. It knew there was no margin for error Friday. It was win and play Sunday or watch their reign as defending Stanley Cup champions end on home ice.

The reward is the Knights get to live to fight at least one more day and they’ve already won twice at American Airlines Center, which no doubt will be a raucous place Sunday afternoon.

“Just stick to the same plan that got us here,” Stone said. “We’ve played in big games before. Just put your best foot forward. It’s a one-game elimination.  We’re in the same exact spot as we were (today).”