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3 takeaways from Knights’ loss: Defending champs dethroned in Dallas

Updated May 6, 2024 - 7:01 pm

DALLAS — Mark Stone thought this team was dangerous.

Health broke in the Golden Knights’ favor at the right time. They made the splashiest of trade deadline acquisitions. They played some of their best hockey at the end of the season.

Even the much-maligned goaltending played a part in keeping the Knights alive for seven games against the Dallas Stars.

But the Knights learned what many defending NHL champions have endured since the turn of the century: The grind to stay at the mountaintop for 730 consecutive days is never an easy one.

There will be a new Stanley Cup champion this season.

The Knights lost 2-1 in Game 7 of their first-round series against the Stars at American Airlines Center on Sunday to end their chances of winning back-to-back championships.

“We felt like we definitely had a team that had a chance to go on a long run,” said Stone, the Knights’ captain. “It’s never easy coming in as an eight seed and beating the top teams at the start.”

The rematch of last season’s Western Conference Final was better suited for that spotlight again. It would have been worthy of a Stanley Cup Final sans seeding and conferences.

It was the least typical 1-versus-8 matchup that could have delivered on the playoff scale. The final score was decided by one goal four times, and the other three times needed an empty-net goal.

The final score in the series was 16-16.

Tie goes to the home team and the No. 1 seed.

Left wing Brett Howden scored the lone goal, and goaltender Adin Hill made 22 saves to give the Knights a chance.

The winning goal came 44 seconds into the third period when Stars left wing Radek Faksa — returning after missing the previous four games with an undisclosed injury — had a shot go off defenseman Alec Martinez’s shin and trickle over Hill’s shoulder.

The Knights scored four and three goals in Games 1 and 2, respectively. They were held to two or fewer in each of the final five games.

But they still had a chance to win the series.

“We just needed to find another goal for Adin tonight,” coach Bruce Cassidy said.

Such a tight series was going to require a mistake or fortunate bounce. The Stars got both.

Right wing Jonathan Marchessault hit a post with 5:38 remaining in the first period. The puck trickled down the ice with defenseman Shea Theodore retrieving it near the goal line.

His backhand clear was intercepted by Dallas center Wyatt Johnston, and the Stars’ young phenom scored eight seconds later to open the scoring.

Howden tied the score 1-1 at 15:25 on a tic-tac-toe goal from center William Karlsson and right wing Michael Amadio.

Center Jack Eichel almost gave the Knights the lead with 43 seconds left in the second period but missed an open net.

Dallas scored the go-ahead goal on its first shift in the third.

“I don’t think anyone in this room ever thought we weren’t going to have an opportunity to win,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “Tonight, I think we played a pretty good game.”

Everything lined up perfectly for the Knights in the series.

After winning the first two games in Dallas, the Knights acknowledged that things would have been different had they found a way to win one of the first two games at T-Mobile Arena.

Dallas found new life and is moving on because of it. The Stars will face the Colorado Avalanche in the second round.

The Knights now will ponder what could have been. It will be at least another year without a back-to-back champion.

They will start again in September with the hopes of trying that again.

“I’m proud of the team. We battled a ton of adversity,” Stone said. “We found a way to get in the playoffs, and we did give ourselves a chance to win this series.”

Here are three takeaways from the loss:

1. Top scorers fizzle

The Stars’ top players, mainly Johnston, scored when they needed to.

The Knights didn’t get that.

Eichel went the final three games without a goal. Marchessault didn’t score again after Game 2. Left wing Tomas Hertl’s lone goal came on the power play in Game 1.

Stone’s two goals came on the power play, and he didn’t look comfortable at five-on-five throughout. Center Chandler Stephenson had one point.

Dallas’ defense and goaltender Jake Oettinger did more than enough to keep the Knights’ top players in check.

2. Flooded with injuries

Cassidy confirmed postgame that Karlsson was dealing with a lower-body injury that hindered his ability.

It’s why Karlsson had different linemates ranging from Hertl to Howden throughout the series and why he was limited on faceoffs.

Cassidy said nine players had surgeries during the season.

3. Goaltenders strong until the end

Hill and Logan Thompson did everything they could to give the Knights a chance.

It was a risk for Cassidy to move from Thompson to Hill in Game 5. Though the Knights lost two of the final three games, Hill allowed just four goals, including a shutout in Game 6.

The Knights went into the season with full confidence in their tandem. While shaky at times, that confidence is restored heading into next season.

Contact Danny Webster at dwebster@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DannyWebster21 on X.

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