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3 takeaways from Knights’ win: Defense shuts down Stars

Updated April 24, 2024 - 11:55 pm

DALLAS — Strong playoff teams can depend on good road periods to get them through a game.

The Golden Knights knew the Dallas Stars would push back Wednesday. The Knights knew they needed a good first period.

They got it. Now they’re halfway to the second round.

The Knights weathered a physical start and shut down the Stars to win Game 2 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series 3-1 at American Airlines Center on Wednesday.

The Knights are up 2-0 and Game 3 is Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.

Right wing Jonathan Marchessault, defenseman Noah Hanifin and center Jack Eichel scored for the Knights. Goaltender Logan Thompson made 20 saves in his second playoff start.

“We’re that much closer to our goal,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Understanding how we’re playing to get there, I think, is important. I do believe we’re playing better.”

Dallas was looking to respond to its 4-3 loss in Game 1. Stars center Matt Duchene said Wednesday morning his team needed to be more aggressive.

That resulted in Dallas looking to hit everything that moved. The Stars finished 31st in hits per game in the regular season with 17.8. They had 24 in the first period Wednesday.

The Knights came back with shots of their own. They had 25 hits after 20 minutes. They weren’t rattled when Dallas came out swinging.

“We knew they were going to have a push physically,” right wing Keegan Kolesar said. “I thought we did a good job managing it.”

The Stars landed the game’s first significant blow when left wing Jason Robertson scored a power-play goal with 3:13 remaining in the first period.

The defending Stanley Cup champions weren’t rattled and responded to the Stars’ pressure with a calm defensive game.

Sticks were in the right place. Breakouts were clean. No one was out of place.

The Knights were rewarded 1:22 after Robertson’s goal when Eichel received a stretch pass from left wing Ivan Barbashev. Eichel held onto the puck long enough to get Dallas goaltender Jake Oettinger out of position before dropping it to Marchessault for a game-tying goal.

That meant things were tied 1-1 at the first intermission.

“I thought, overall, it was a good road first period for us,” Eichel said. “I thought we did some good things.”

The Knights kept going in the second period. They forced the Stars to the outside and didn’t allow many quality chances.

That led to the break through late in the frame. Hanifin scored with 1:07 left in the second to give his team a 2-1 lead.

The Knights locked things down from there. It was a performance reminiscent of the ones they had last postseason. They controlled the game with their defense and played well in front of their goaltender.

The forecheck also remained aggressive. The Knights outshot the Stars 20-10 the final two periods.

“We didn’t sit back too much,” Hanifin said. “We were still trying to create offense and make plays. That’s the best way to defend. I thought it was a great 60 minutes from us.”

The odds are now in the Knights’ favor.

The last 14 teams to take a 2-0 series lead on a conference’s No. 1 seed have gone on to advance. The Stars’ only hope now is to steal a win at T-Mobile Arena.

“Structure wise and our guys’ discipline and how we wanted to play, there was a level of commitment from the guys to get it done,” Cassidy said. “And we did.”

Here are three takeaways from the win:

1. Goalies trade saves

Both netminders stepped up with big stops to keep the game tied in the second period.

Oettinger robbed defenseman Shea Theodore with a diving glove save with 5:37 left until the second intermission. Thompson responded 42 seconds later when he stopped Dallas center Wyatt Johnston with a left pad save.

“As a goalie, you know that if they score that goal, that gives them a lot of momentum, especially after a big save like that,” Thompson said. “Just staying calm and knowing they have a scoring chance, you just have to lock it down.”

2. Impressive defense

The Knights gave up 11 shots on goal in the first period, but settled in after that.

Dallas mustered only 10 the final 40 minutes. The Stars, trailing by one the entire third period, didn’t have a shot on goal the final six minutes of the game.

“In a loud environment like that, I thought the way we played in the third period was perfect,” Hanifin said.

3. Martinez returns

Defenseman Alec Martinez joined the lineup Wednesday in place of defenseman Nic Hague, who was out with a lower-body injury.

Martinez, who was a healthy scratch in Game 1 on Monday, finished with one shot on goal in 15:50 of ice time.

It was the three-time Stanley Cup champion’s 126th career playoff game and 62nd with the Knights.

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

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