Thanks to Joe Pavelski’s record-setting power-play goal in overtime, the Dallas Stars staved off elimination in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals with a 3-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights.
But there’s still a long road – make that a very long road – for Peter DeBoer’s squad to manoeuvre if they hope to join the Florida Panthers in the 2023 Stanley Cup Final. Their best-of-seven series returns to Las Vegas for Game 5 on Saturday night.
Teams that hold a 3-0 series lead in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series, as Vegas did entering Thursday’s loss, own an all-time record of 201-4 (98 per cent). That includes 47-0 in the round before the Stanley Cup Final.
So while Pavelski’s fourth career overtime goal in the playoffs – a one-timer from the left circle off Miro Heiskanen’s feed – may have been a feel-good moment for Dallas, there still is a mighty big mountain for the Stars to climb.
“These overtime games are a lot of fun,” said Pavelski, who became the oldest player in NHL history (38 years, 318 days) to score an overtime goal in a potential elimination game. “They’re a lot more fun when you win them. That’s for sure.
“It’s a big win. It’s a start for us. We know our situation. That’s how [Vegas] got it going, with an overtime win [in Game 1]. It’s nice to get one here and build from there. This is one win. I’m not going to look too much ahead than the next game. There’s no reason to.”
Vegas won the first two games of the series in Las Vegas by 4-3 and 3-2 scores, both in overtime, before blowing out the Stars 4-0 in Game 3 in Dallas.
The Stars lost captain Jamie Benn to a match major and game misconduct for cross-checking Mark Stone just 1:53 into that loss. Benn was later assessed a two-game suspension for the incident that will also keep him out of Game 5. Forward Evgenii Dadonov suffered a lower-body injury in the first period of that contest and also won’t make the trip to Las Vegas.
With the long odds of a series comeback still facing them, it would have been easy to understand if the Stars checked out heading into Game 4. Instead, it was the Golden Knights who were left questioning their effort afterward. The Stars sliced through the Vegas defence for 42 shots and finished with an eye-popping 46-23 edge in hits.
“Our effort level, I don’t think it was good enough,” said centre Jonathan Marchessault, who gave the Golden Knights a 2-1 lead early in the third period with his eighth goal of the playoffs. “Closing a series is probably the hardest game of the series to win, right? Just not good enough for our group.
“We were trying to play the right way but I think their desperation was higher than ours. At this time of year it’s not about X’s and O’s, it’s about who wants it more. And I thought they wanted it more than us.”
DeBoer had no such complaints. He was especially happy with the play of goaltender Jake Oettinger, who made 37 saves, including a key point-blank stop of Jack Eichel at the end of a two-on-one break. Oettinger had been pulled after allowing three goals on just five shots in Game 3.
“Great response,” DeBoer said. “Jake’s been that guy all year. … I don’t think you’ve seen the best of him yet. We had a great mindset tonight. We had great energy. We had focus. We wanted to take care of business and we did. Now you’ve got to do it again.”
And again. And again.