Jason Franson / The Canadian Press via AP
Published Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020 | 2:32 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020 | 4:10 a.m.
Sometimes all it takes is one goal to get the offense rolling.
A Vegas forward had not scored against a goalie in more than a week entering Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Western Conference Final against the Stars. Even worse: The Golden Knights had been shut out in two of their last three games, including Sunday when they dropped the initial game of the best-of-seven game series.
But it wasn’t time to panic, even after a scoreless first period on Tuesday.
Paul Stastny’s goal jump-started the Golden Knights offense and they didn’t look back, scoring three times in the second period to even the series at a game apiece with a 3-0 victory over the Stars at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
“We were snake-bitten for a while there and I think everybody was gripping their stick a little tight,” Vegas forward Chandler Stephenson said. “We’re at our best when we have that swagger and we’re making plays, tough to defend. It was nice to get that mojo back tonight and even the series.”
The Golden Knights dominated for most of the game, including a second period that saw three power plays and 19 shots on goal. Stastny got it going by redirecting Max Pacioretty’s pass into the net, finally sneaking one by Anton Khudobin after four-plus periods of shutout hockey.
William Karlsson was next, sniping the second goal through traffic on the power play for a 2-0 lead at the 8:24 mark of the second. The Golden Knights even appeared to score again on their next power play, but a successful Dallas challenge for goaltender interference resulted in a do-over.
That was a pivotal point in the game. Dallas killed the penalty and had multiple opportunities to jump back into the game, but Vegas denied them each time. Goalie Robin Lehner had 24 saves to record his third straight shutout.
“Tonight we got our game back,” Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said. “Once we got that first goal, I thought we looked like we normally do, which is making plays and finding space and sticking pucks in the net.”
There was still 5:28 left in the second period when Vegas potted its third tally, but it might as well have been over. It was a beauty of a goal, a 3-on-1 with Stephenson, Nicolas Roy and Tomas Nosek, and a perfect display of tic-tac-toe passing. Stephenson to Roy to Stephenson to Nosek to the net.
“I just turned and was ready for the pass if it came to me,” Nosek said. “(Stephenson) made a pretty good pass, so did (Roy), so it was great to create the break and happy to score a goal and help the team win a game.”
In a universally accepted sign of waving the white flag, Dallas pulled Khudobin after the second period for a rookie who had never played in an NHL game.
“We outcompeted them and played a hell of a game,” Lehner said. “It made it a little bit easier for me.”
Lehner became the first goalie since 2018 to record four clean sheets in a postseason. That last goalie was Marc-Andre Fleury, once again emphasizing the goaltending luxury Vegas has this postseason.
“Defensively we’ve dug in around both our goalies and I think we take a lot of pride in not giving up a lot,” DeBoer said. “But when there is a chance, they’ve both come up big. I think both guys have given us winning goaltending, a chance to win every night if we find a way to stick a couple pucks in the net. It’s a good feeling as a coach.”
Another good feeling is tying the series at 1-1. The Golden Knights have never gone 0-2 in a series and are 3-2 all-time in a series tied after two games.
In Game 1, the Stars played the type of game they like to play: a low-event, defensive effort where they score early and defend a lead. Game 2 was a typical Vegas game: overwhelm the opposition with chances on the net and play strong enough defensively to help the goalie pick up a victory.
It’s now a best-of-five series with Game 3 set for Thursday, and the winner of that one might just be whichever team can force the other to play its game.
“Game 1 wasn’t our best game, our legs weren’t underneath us and we weren’t ready to go,” Stastny said. “But today the way we came out and played that whole 60 minutes is how we drew up the game plan and how we’ve been playing the whole season.”