Paul Stastny scored to end a lengthy goal drought by Vegas forwards, Robin Lehner stopped all 24 shots he faced for his fourth shutout of the playoffs and the Golden Knights rediscovered their winning ways and beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 Tuesday in Game 2 of the Western Conference final, evening the series.
Stastny’s second-period goal was the first by a Vegas forward with an opposing goalie in net in 276:24, dating to Game 4 against Vancouver last round. William Karlsson and Tomas Nosek made it three in less than 10 minutes against Anton Khudobin, and the Golden Knights had another goal disallowed for goaltender interference.
“We play more as a team, support each other,” Nosek said. “Finally, we score some goals, too. It’s been a while.”
After getting flustered by hot Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko and failing to crack Khudobin in a hard-hitting Game 1 that was played at the Stars' pace, Vegas finally looked like the team that earned the top seed in the West and steamrolled through the first round and halfway through the Vancouver series.
The return of enforcer Ryan Reaves was just one element of that. With Reaves suspended a game for an illegal check to the head, coach Peter DeBoer didn’t start his physical fourth line as he had in 34 consecutive games since the All-Star break in January.
William Carrier, Nosek and Reaves started and came out hitting. Reaves hit Dallas captain Jamie Benn twice in the first 30 seconds, and the Golden Knights dictated the physicality the way the Stars did two nights earlier.
After no goals in the first period, Stastny scored on a redirection in front from Max Pacioretty. With agitating Stars winger in the penalty box minutes later, Karlsson scored on the power play with Mark Stone sliding in front to screen Khudobin.
Each goal was a reminder of how to score in the playoffs.
“As a group we just got to be committed to being in front of the net, making it more difficult, picking up some loose pucks,” Stone said Monday. “There’s pucks around there that we can get to and bang in that we haven’t been.”
Defenceman Shea Theodore, the only Vegas player to beat Demko in the final three games of that series, was in some pain on the bench early in the second after losing an edge, and it appeared he scored on the power play to make it 3-0. Dallas coach Rick Bowness successfully challenged for goalie interference to waive it off, but Nosek finished off a perfect tic-tac-toe passing play later in the period to give the Golden Knights the three-goal lead for real.
Allowing three goals on 27 shots and Vegas' 27-12 domination in pucks on net was enough for the Stars staff to pull Khudobin at the second intermission. Rookie Jake Oettinger made his NHL debut in the third and didn’t face a shot until more than 11 minutes in.
Much like Game 1, in which Vegas was the better team in the third, Dallas turned the tables in the final period Tuesday but couldn’t score, let alone come back.
NOTES: Lehner has not allowed a goal in more than 131 minutes. … Stastny’s goal was his first non-empty netter since Game 2 of the first round against Chicago. He had one of two into an empty net in Game 7 of the Vancouver series. … To fit Reaves back in the lineup, Nick Cousins was scratched. … Khuodbin was pulled a game after becoming the eighth goalie to record his first NHL playoff shutout at age 34 or older.
Game 3 is Thursday night. The Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders play Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final Wednesday.