This conclusion isn’t because the Stars aren’t an excellent team. They are. But so are the Knights.
It’s more math than emotion: only four teams in National Hockey League history have rallied from a 0-3 deficit to win a playoff series, and it has never happened in a conference final, where teams that win the first three games are 46-0 in advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Golden Knights, a 51-win team that had 111 points in the regular season, aren’t going to lose four straight playoff games after losing only three times in the first month of the Stanley Cup tournament.
This Stars’ comeback almost certainly isn’t happening despite Dallas’ impressive 4-2 road win Saturday in Las Vegas.
But the fantastic thing about sports is that you actually have to play the games.
And ask yourself this: Can the Dallas Stars win two consecutive games? Because that’s all they have to do now after halting the Knights and stealing momentum by winning Games 4 and 5 in the Western Conference Final.
The Stars no longer have to climb Mt. Everest. They just have to get up the Eiger.
Game 6 is Monday in Dallas. And the Stars will have captain and key forward Jamie Benn back after a two-game suspension.
So check your climbing harness and make sure you’re roped in. This could get wild.
“We’ve done it all year long where we’ve stayed with our game and we find a way,” the senior Star, Joe Pavelski, said in his walkoff interview with Hockey Night in Canada. “It was a gutsy win coming in here. It gives us life, gives us life.”
The guy most responsible for giving Dallas life was depth forward Ty Dellandrea, who scored twice in 87 seconds halfway through the third period to triple his playoff goals total and propel the Stars to victory in an elimination game they trailed twice.
Luke Glendening, another bottom-six winger, tied the game on a deflection at 15:24 of the first period. And Dallas sniper Jason Robertson, re-ignited in this series, made it 2-2 at 5:29 of the middle frame.
Importantly, the goals were an immediate response by the Stars after Ivan Barbashev scored for Vegas at 13:36 and Chandler Stephenson at 3:20, respectively. The Knights’ two leads lasted less than four minutes.
Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 27 of 29 Vegas shots for his second straight win since getting pulled from Game 3 for the third time in eight playoff contests.
STANLEY CUP MAGIC
Much like the 82-game regular season, it’s the journey that surprises and enthralls us in the playoffs – not merely the destination.
Dellandrea scored just nine times in the regular season and was a healthy scratch for coach Peter DeBoer when this series began. He was also a healthy scratch when the Stars decided their second-round series by winning Game 7 against the Seattle Kraken.
But there he was on Saturday, extending the Stars’ season by scoring twice in the third period while playing his ass off every fourth shift. Besides his pair of goals, Dellandrea had five shot attempts and three hits in 15:59 of ice time.
The 22-year-old, 2018 first-round pick from Port Perry, Ont., had logged one NHL playoff game before this spring.
Asked about his performance, Dellandrea told ESPN: “We’ve got bigger things that we want to accomplish here. So, this was a big win and we get to go back home and have another opportunity. But we’re playing for a lot.”
It’s not difficult finding inspiration at playoff time, but the Stars made Benn’s suspension a rally focal point. His teammates were determined to win twice without him so their captain’s season didn’t end with his unprovoked cross-check to the neck of Mark Stone two minutes in Game 3.
Mission accomplished. Getting an impactful, battle-hardened veteran like Benn back should turbo-charge the Stars. But they need to be careful about letting their urgency or focus wane after playing the last two games for Benn.
Relief can turn into a dip in emotion when teams get key players back from injury, as if the player’s return alone means the hardest part is over.
“We’ve been through a little bit of adversity this round,” Dellandrea said. “A big message in the room was: We want to get Jamie back, you know, get our captain back. I think we just focussed on that. We’ve got him back (and) head home for Game 6. That’s what we’re thinking about right now.”
The thoroughness of the Stars’ engagement on Saturday was reflected in the ice times of DeBoer’s four centres: Roope Hintz, 15:43; Wyatt Johnson, 15:52; Max Domi, 16:32; and Radek Faksa, 15:05. Why didn’t Dallas’ best players play more? Because the guys in the bottom half of the lineup earned their ice time in a must-win game.
LONG NIGHT FOR KNIGHTS
There are a couple of things Vegas can latch on to after Game 5.
Their top players, especially the first line of Jack Eichel, Jonathan Marchessault and Ivan Barbashev, can play a lot better – even if Barbashev did open scoring on a strong move to the net after Dallas defenceman Miro Heiskanen drifted out of position to converge on Eichel along the side boards.
And the bounces could have scarcely gone worse for the Knights. Glendening’s goal was a tip on a seeing-eye point shot by Thomas Harley. Robertson’s goal came after his initial attempt bounced back to him off defenceman Shea Theodore, and the follow-up shot tumbled off the Knight’s stick and up and over goalie Adin Hill. Dellandrea’s tie-breaker ticked the stick of Vegas defenceman Alex Pietrangelo and rattled between Hill’s blocker and pad. And Dellandrea’s clincher came from a scramble when the puck bounced to him in the slot off Stone’s skate, and Hill was unable to make a save because Domi has been knocked into him by Golden Knight Nicolas Hague and a turnover by Zach Whitecloud.
None of the goals was clean. But the Stars earned them by battling to get to the dirty areas. And the Knights are allowed to score greasy goals, too. They just didn’t. And now they have to play a sixth game on Monday.
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
The Knights did not expose their 61.4 per cent penalty-killing, the worst by any team that has won at least one playoff round since the NHL began tracking the stat in 1977-78, because they did not take a penalty in Game 5.
But Vegas also failed to score on the game’s only power play, a slew-foot tripping penalty by Mason Marchment just 50 seconds in. In 16 playoff games, the Knights’ power play has scored nine goals and ranks 11th among 16 qualifiers at 17.7 per cent.
The Knights have been winning by dominating five-on-five play. But they didn’t on Saturday.