The Dallas Stars defied expectations Monday night, defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals to win the series and advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
I say the Stars defied expectations because, frankly, most commentators have been going on about the Golden Knights since the start of the series. Vegas cracked the goaltending of the Vancouver Canucks and in came the clichés, pushing analytics and puck possession and “rolling four lines” to the breaking point.
But the Stars demonstrated what hockey fans often forget: anything is possible.
Sometimes there’s no telling why one team showed up and another didn’t, why one caught the victory and the other team lost.
That’s not to say Dallas took this series by sheer fate or luck, of course.
But on paper, Vegas had the advantage in most categories and even interred Dallas in analytics.
Still, the Stars took Game Five by a final score of 3-2, notching the winner in overtime thanks to Denis Gurianov.
“It says analytics are overrated,” said Dallas centre Tyler Seguin when asked what the win means. “It just says we find ways. We don’t care. Against Colorado it was kind of a goal-scoring match. This series was kind of more our style: 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, whatever it may be match. Whatever the game brings to us, it’s how we’re going to play. We just find ways to get the job done.”
Stars coach Rick Bowness put a finer point on it by noting that Vegas may have owned the table in shots against, but Dallas was looking at chances against. As in, “They took a lot of outside shots? We’ll give them that.”
Is allowing the Golden Knights shots on goal from outside the danger zone part of some sort of master plan? Maybe.
But Gurianov wouldn’t have scored the game winner without Zach Whitecloud chipping the puck over the glass in OT or without Paul Stastny breaking his stick.
Good teams find ways to win, but nobody would argue Vegas isn’t a good team. The NHL has the parity to make the difference between a good team and a not-so-good team insignificant most nights. Hockey in this league is generally about capitalizing on mistakes and finding some puck luck now and again.
The Stars managed it in five games against Vegas and that could speak to them being the superior team. On the scoreboard, they certainly were. They’re 5-0 in overtime in the bubble, they’ve got a hot goalie in Anton Khudobin, and they’re making hay out of surprising scorers like Joel Kiviranta.
“It’s been a crazy year, right from the start, but we’ve stuck together as a group, and played some fun hockey,” said Dallas’ Jamie Benn. “We find ways to win right now, and that’s all that matters.”
The Stars await the winners of the Eastern Conference Final. The Tampa Bay Lightning are up 3-1 over the New York Islanders, with Game Five set for Tuesday night.
Image: Canadian Press/Jason Franson