The Vegas Golden Knights inched their way closer to a second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in their first six years in the NHL when they blanked the Dallas Stars 4-0 on Tuesday.
With the win, Vegas took a commanding 3-0 series lead.
Adin Hill had his first career playoff shutout and became the second Golden Knights goaltender with a five-game winning streak this postseason, joining Laurent Brossoit. Since Game 5 of the second round, Hill has a 1.98 goals-against average and .942 save percentage.
Jonathan Marchessault scored the first of three Golden Knights goals in the opening 7:10, with additional goals coming from Ivan Barbashev and William Carrier. Alex Pietrangelo scored in the second period to provide the final margin.
And there are some who might point to the early 1-0 lead the Knights took just 1:11 into the game on Marchessault’s goal, while others may say the game was won when Stars captain Jamie Benn received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for cross-checking Vegas’ Mark Stone 42 seconds after that goal.
“We’re upset when we see that,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He’s our captain. But at the end of the day, they make a call that gives us a chance to make them pay for that penalty.”
It’s surely conceivable the game was won by the end of the first period with the Knights leading 3-0, or once they took a commanding 4-0 lead in the second period.
That said, I submit to you that Vegas damaged Dallas’ spirit near the end of Game 2, when the Knights tied the score with 2:22 left in regulation, then won the game just 1:12 into overtime.
The Stars outplayed Vegas for about 55 minutes of Sunday’s matinee inside T-Mobile Arena, and held a 2-1 lead in the waning moments.
Stars goalie Jake Oettinger looked like the goaltender who ranked third in the league with 37 regular-season wins, and was sixth with a 2.37 goals-against average (among goaltenders with 30 starts).
Then the Knights seized momentum.
Then they swiped the game.
Then they stole the series.
Now 5-1 on the road in the postseason, Vegas has been doing this for the past five weeks. First with Winnipeg, then with Edmonton, and now with Dallas.
The Knights have been playing with the type of swagger that wins championships. It’s a brand of confidence that doesn’t allow the players to be bothered by outside noise, but rather does allow them to buy into one another.
Be it their headline forwards or veteran defensemen, or their scrappy fourth-line, or a pair of goaltenders who spent more time in the American Hockey League during the regular season, than they did the National Hockey League – the Golden Knights are in their own zone, and nobody is going to distract them.
So, when they took the ice in Dallas on Tuesday, it was the Knights already in the Stars’ heads.
Perhaps that’s why Benn decided to dangerously cross-check Stone when he was already laid out on the ice. Perhaps that’s why Oettinger was sent to the bench before the end of the first period, after allowing three goals on five shots.
Perhaps that’s why in the second period Max Domi was called for cross-checking, roughing, and a 10-minute misconduct. As a result, the Dallas crowd littered the ice with food and debris and forced the referees to push the final 21 seconds to the third period.
Sheesh, maybe the Knights are in all of Dallas’ heads?
Whatever it may be, it’s working and has the Golden Knights headed down a path that leads to the Stanley Cup Final, where they could face another fantastic postseason story in the Florida Panthers, who lead the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-0, in the Eastern Conference Final.
Game 4 is scheduled for Thursday in Dallas, and if the series ends then, the Stars can look back to the end of Game 2.
It’s then, when the Golden Knights won the Western Conference Final.