It feels strange to write, but the NHL’s time in the bubble is somehow nearing its end. It seems like just yesterday that twenty-four teams, twelve each in Edmonton and Toronto, resumed play to compete for the Stanley Cup. As of this morning, only three teams are left with a chance to win and one of them, the New York Islanders, will need a minor miracle to overcome a 3-1 deficit against a powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning squad. Where has the time gone?
Monday Night’s Game:
The Dallas Stars are a good team. Though their best forwards are aging, the top trio of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov is formidable. Their depth up front is good, if unspectacular. Joe Pavelski still has some gas in the tank, and John Klingberg has long been underappreciated outside of Dallas. Miro Heiskanen is playing at a high level, and looks like he has the potential to be one of the best defensemen in the league for years to come. Their goaltending duo of Ben Bishop, and Anton Khudobin is stellar. I repeat: they are a good team, we shouldn’t be surprised to see them go through.
One cannot help but feel like the Golden Knights let another opportunity at the NHL’s top prize slip through their fingers, and teams only get so many of these shots. Last night’s game was a microcosm of the whole series: Vegas clearly carried the play for long stretches, struggled to convert their chances when they had them, and then got buried when the Stars could actually hit the broadside of a barn.
Vegas’ recent scoring woes have been well-documented, so they must have breathed a collective sigh of relief when Chandler Stephenson scored on a break-away just more than eight minutes into the game. It was the type of speedy, skilled sequence that simply hadn’t been converted by the Golden Knights all series:
Throughout this series, it’s often felt like the Golden Knights were always just on the verge of cutting the Stars open with this type of attack without the action ever fully materializing. When it finally did, it was kind of shocking. To Vegas’ credit, they didn’t let up after going ahead either. Aided by a couple of foolish Dallas penalties, the Golden Knights absolutely controlled play for the first two periods. Just look at this shot chart:
Vegas had all of that second, especially early. pic.twitter.com/5bYe7mnmOQ— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) September 15, 2020
Khudobin, and some good luck, is all that kept this from being three or four to nothing after forty minutes. So when Reilly Smith scored less than a minute into the third, it felt like a virtual guarantee that we would see a Game Six. Finally, Vegas was getting the bounces. Until they weren’t.
I’m not sure it’s fair to call what happened for the rest of the third and into the start of overtime a choke because that would reduce the Stars’ accomplishments. The Golden Knights did effectively stop threatening Dallas’ net and after two third period goals sent the game to OT, the Stars’ winner felt virtually pre-ordained. Vegas had been on its heels for a full 15 minutes before Denis Gurianov netted the winner on the power play.
Some might complain that giving Dallas the man advantage in overtime for a puck over the glass penalty was unfair to Vegas. On the contrary, I saw it as karmic justice. It was merely a continuation of the pressure the Stars had been exerting. The rule was designed to prevent teams from simply flipping the puck over the glass to relieve the pressure. Vegas lost the wheel for a whole period and eventually succumbed to their inability to get back on track. That Zach Whitecloud’s penalty was taken in the face of a determined Dallas forechecker was all the more fitting. When the Stars were presented with opportunities all series they seized them. They are, after all, a good team. Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised they’ve reached the Finals.
New York Islanders @ Tampa Bay Lightning, 8 pm EST, TBL Leads NYI 3-1