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Pete DeBoer must decide how to counter Stars’ potent top line

Updated September 13, 2020 - 8:20 am

The injury to fourth-line center Tomas Nosek in the second period Thursday forced the Golden Knights to shuffle their forward lines.

Truth is, they were losing the chess match before Nosek departed.

The Knights struggled to contain Dallas’ revamped first line in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Stars in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.

Dallas produced one goal the first two games of the series, and Stars coach Rick Bowness returned Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov to the top line in search of offense.

The Stars presented a more balanced lineup with scoring spread across the four forward lines during the opener, and the Knights countered in Game 2 by breaking up leading scorers Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone.

“We feel if we can play at the top of our game that we can dictate the play,” Knights coach Pete DeBoer said before the game. “A byproduct of the setup is we have a little more balance through the lineup, which kind of matches up with what they’re doing.”

Benn, Seguin and Radulov carried the Stars’ attack in Game 3.

Dallas had 66.7 percent of the shot attempts and a 7-3 edge in scoring chances at five-on-five when that line was on the ice, according to NaturalStatTrick. None of its other three lines was better than a 41.8 percent share of the shot attempts.

Benn set the tone with his physical play, and the Stars’ captain finished with a goal and an assist while registering a game-high six shots on goal.

Radulov scored the winner 31 seconds into overtime with a BB that kissed off the far post.

Seguin added an assist on Benn’s goal for his first point in seven games.

Nosek appeared to injure his left arm in a collision with Dallas’ Andrej Sekera and did not return. Nick Cousins could return to the lineup, but DeBoer must decide how to deploy his lines with Dallas having the last change Saturday in Game 4.

“Just with the way the game was going, we were chasing it,” DeBoer said. “All night we were behind, so it just made sense to kind of go to our three offensive lines.”

Here are three more takeaways from the loss:

1. Further review

Stone broke a seven-game goal drought but needed two replays to get credit.

Stone was planted in front of the Stars’ net and got a piece of Alex Tuch’s shot from the left faceoff dot. Stone appeared to clip the skate of goaltender Anton Khudobin, and Bowness challenged for goaltender interference.

The NHL’s situation room determined “the contact between Vegas’ Mark Stone and Dallas goaltender Anton Khudobin was incidental and occurred in the white ice and, therefore, did not constitute goaltender interference.”

The goal was originally awarded to Tuch, but an official scoring change after the game gave Stone his first goal since Aug. 29 and seventh of the postseason.

2. Crossing the line?

Tuch was involved in a shoving match with Benn after the whistle with about four minutes remaining in the first period.

Benn took exception to a move Tuch used at the start of the scrum called a slewfoot to take down Seguin.

The NHL rulebook defines a slewfoot as “the act of a player using his leg or foot to knock or kick an opponent’s feet from under him, or pushes an opponent’s upper body backward with an arm or elbow, and at the same time with a forward motion of his leg, knocks or kicks the opponent’s feet from under him, causing him to fall violently to the ice.”

Tuch was not penalized on the play, but could have faced a match penalty had referees ruled he slewfooted Seguin. It’s not clear whether the league’s department of player safety will apply any supplemental discipline to Tuch such as a fine or suspension.

3. Quieting Reaves

Before the start of Game 3, Knights forward Ryan Reaves was asked by “Hockey Night in Canada” reporter Scott Oake why a fourth-line forward continues to garner so much publicity in the postseason.

“Maybe it’s the curls, I think,” Reaves replied, rubbing his hair. “It can’t be my skills, that’s for sure.”

But Reaves was largely invisible Thursday, as the Stars returned to the physical style that worked for long stretches during Game 1. Reaves did not take a shift in the third period as the Knights tried to come from behind.

Dallas finished with a 55-42 advantage in hits, led by Jason Dickinson’s eight. Defenseman Miro Heiskanen added seven.

“They’re going to grind, and they’re going to make it tough defensively,” DeBoer said. “That’s just how it’s going to be, and we’re comfortable in that type of game.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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