Updated May 20, 2023 - 8:03 am
Bruce Cassidy pumped his fist on the bench as the announced crowd of 18,271 at T-Mobile Arena went wild and Brett Howden and Adin Hill were mobbed on separate areas of the ice.
The Golden Knights coach has described his group as “imperfect” at different times during the playoffs. They’re not without faults. What they are is deep, resilient and committed to winning hockey games by any mean.
That continued in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars on Friday. The Knights allowed the first goal for the ninth time in 12 postseason games. They blew two third-period leads. They still emerged with a 4-3 victory after Howden’s goal 1:35 into overtime.
The Knights continued to stare adversity in the face and fire right back. Their six comeback wins in the playoffs lead the NHL, and they’re 2-0 in overtime.
“Sometimes you have those seasons where you don’t overcome things,” Cassidy said. “We have that group that will this year.”
Stars coach Pete DeBoer admitted it was “probably the right result.”
The Knights had an 11-5 edge in high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five, according to the website Natural Stat Trick. They came out flying and fired 11 of the first 12 shots on goal.
It took an unlucky bounce for them to trail.
Left wing Jason Robertson scored after a breakout pass from defenseman Alex Pietrangelo hit the Zamboni door and bounced to center Roope Hintz in the slot. Hintz set up his teammate for a deflection to give the Stars a 1-0 lead with 1:16 left in the first period.
The Knights fought back in the second. They pinned Dallas back with their forechecking, rolling line after line into the offensive zone. It resulted in an equalizer from center William Karlsson 9:17 in.
Karlsson then gave the Knights a 2-1 lead on a wrist shot from the slot 1:19 into the third.
Dallas took the opportunity to show its mettle, too. The Stars pushed back every time the Knights came close to putting the game to bed. Hintz tied the game again 2:42 after Karlsson’s goal. Center Teddy Blueger’s first goal of the playoffs gave the Knights a 3-2 lead with 10:40 remaining, but that didn’t hold up, either.
Captain Jamie Benn scored the tying goal with 1:59 left in regulation and goaltender Jake Oettinger out of the net. It was the second time in the postseason the Knights have allowed a late six-on-five goal. The Winnipeg Jets scored with 22 seconds remaining in the third period in Game 3 of their first-round series.
The Knights shrugged it off then to win in double overtime. They did so again in less time Friday, with Howden jamming the puck in off Oettinger three shifts into the extra session.
The Knights got their first win against the Stars in four meetings this season and their first ever against Oettinger. Their series record is 5-2 with a win in Game 1. Dallas lost in overtime for a third straight series opener.
“It speaks volumes about how close our group is,” said Hill, who made 33 saves to improve to 4-1 in the postseason. “We always have confidence in one another. We know that we can compete with any team in this league and we’ll bounce back, as we have all year.”
Here are three takeaways from the win:
1. Karlsson keeps kicking
Karlsson said before Friday’s game he’s getting plenty of sleep despite having newborn son Beckham at home because he’s sleeping in a separate room.
Whatever he’s doing, it’s working.
Karlsson recorded his first two-goal game of the season and his second ever in the playoffs. His seven goals in the postseason lead the Knights and are tied for his career high, along with the team’s run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
Karlsson also played more than two-thirds of his five-on-five ice time against the Stars’ top line. The Knights had a 4-1 edge in high-danger chances when he shared the ice with Robertson.
“It’s a great time of the year, and you want to be one of the guys to contribute,” Karlsson said. “This is when it matters the most.”
2. Robertson strikes
The sense of relief in Robertson’s smile was obvious.
The NHL’s seventh-leading goal scorer in the regular season with 46 struggled to translate his success to the playoffs through two rounds. The 23-year-old had just two goals — and none at five-on-five — in the Stars’ first 13 games.
“He needed to get one,” DeBoer said.
Getting on the board to start the series seemed to be a weight off Robertson’s shoulders. He also got an assist on Hintz’s goal. Hintz’s three-point night gives him 22 in the postseason, the most in the NHL.
3. Blueger scores
Blueger’s goal was his second ever in the playoffs and came off a great drive to the net by right wing Keegan Kolesar.
Stars defenseman Ryan Suter and Miro Heiskanen collided with Kolesar at the edge of the crease. That left Blueger all alone when the loose puck fell to him in the slot.
“He did all the work,” Blueger said. “It bounced right to me. It was basically an open net.”