Like in any series, there is a game that is more important than another. In the Western Conference Final between the Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights, it was Game 3. This game featured a goaltending duel that saw Stars defeat the Golden Knights by the score of 3-2 on a goal by Alexander Radulov 31 seconds into overtime. For Alexander Radulov, this was his second overtime winner of the playoffs. This was a hard-hitting fast-paced affair from the beginning as both teams established physical play early. We have gotten to the point in the series that both teams have finally built up that hatred. But in the end, it is the Stars that hold a 2-1 series lead over the Golden Knights in the best of seven Western Conference Final.
Alexander Radulov Plays The Role Of Hero For Dallas
From the get-go, Robin Lehner and Anton Khudobin were both on their games. Neither goalie wanted to be the one to slip up and cost his team the game. They combined to give up five goals. Khudobin rebound nicely after being pulled in Game 2 stopping 38 shots. However, like head coach Rick Bowness said before the game, if it was not for Khudobin Game 2 could have been 6-0. Bowness just wanted to give his goalie some rest. Khudobin played 16 games in 36 days. That is a lot for a starting goaltender.
And it showed in Game 3 as Khudobin as he stood tall against the Golden Knights. He stopped William Karlsson on a breakaway in the second period. Not to mention the stops he made in the third period with Vegas on the power play. Having those 20 minutes off has made a big difference for the Stars in this series. Khudobin knew with goals being at a premium in the series, with defence running the show, he had to be on his game. And on his game he was. He stopped the vaunted Golden Knights offence at every turn.
On the other hand, Lehner continued his brilliance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Golden Knights. He stopped 20 shots. Coming into the game, Lehner had recorded four shutouts in the playoffs, with two in his last two starts. However, Lehner’s shutout streak came to end when Jamie Oleksiak scored late in the second period. Lehner had a shutout streak of 127:27 and has done everything for the Golden Knights have asked for and even more. Since arriving in Vegas, Lehner has taken the starters’ role away from Marc-Andre Fleury, who has not played bad. But that is the luxury of having two goalies that are number one.
When one needs a night off, the other can play. However, when your offence does not show up your goaltender has to be your best player. With the way the Stars were generating offensive chances, Lehner was again on his A-game. It goes to show you that a good goaltender can slow down any high powered offence. As we saw in the second round between the Golden Knights and Vancouver Canucks.
The Golden Knights and Stars did not hold back as both teams brought the physicality. We know how Ryan Reaves and the fourth line of Vegas is very physical, but for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we saw how physical the Stars could get. The line of Blake Comeau, Jason Dickinson, and Radek Faksa did not let the Golden Knights defence breathe. Even though they did not have the scoring chances, they were able to establish a great forecheck. And the best part for Dallas is that this line can play against any of the lines the Golden Knights throw out there.
For the first time in the series, we saw scrums after the whistle. Not to mention we saw battles on the ice between individual players. Alexander Radulov and Mark Stone had a jousting match. While Alex Tuch and Tyler Seguin had some words after a stopped of play in front of Khudobin. However, Tuch was not done as he slew footed Seguin and which Jamie Benn did not take kindly to. The two had a nice battle pushing and shoving and the rest of the players joined. The two teams established in Game 3 that this will not be for the fated heart as this will be a knockdown drag-out series.
Where Has All The Offence Gone?
Goals have been hard to come by through three games in this series. The teams have combined for eight goals through three games. Give credit to the defence making life difficult for the offence out on the ice. Both teams have kept the skilled players to the perimeter. This has limited the scoring chances for both teams. Outside of the power-play goal by Shea Theodore and three breakaways goals by Radulov in overtime, Oleksiak and Benn in regulation of Game 3, nothing has come easy for these teams.
Just look at the tying goal by Stone in the third period. Not to mention the way the Stars defence is playing in front of their goaltender. Dallas continues to block shots at every chance. While we saw the Stars play street hockey in the previous series, Bowness has got his team playing solid defence again. However, the Stars can’t rely on defence alone eventually they will need to score goals.
On the Vegas side of things, the Golden Knights are generating the scoring chances but just cannot convert. If Vegas was not generating the chances there would be more of a concern. Eventually, they will explode similar to what happened in Game 2. But against a good defensive team like Dallas, it is harder to convert on mistakes. The Golden Knights will need to force the Stars defence into uncomfortable situations and continue to bang away at the skill of the Dallas defence. They can’t let players like Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg move the puck out of the zone. Defensively the Golden Knights need to clean up some things in the neutral zone, but other than that they have played a good series so far.
But in the end, the top players for the Stars showed up as they have a leg up in the series over Vegas.
Embed from Getty Images