In Game 2 of the Western Conference Final, we saw the series’ second shutout. This time, Robin Lehner got the start and posted his fourth clean sheet of the 2020 playoffs. The Vegas Golden Knights definitely shook off whatever plagued them in Game 1 and came out flying. They were all over the Dallas Stars, who were lucky to end the first period in a scoreless tie.
In the second period, the Stars were not so lucky, as they gave up three goals and failed to score for the rest of the game. If Dallas and Vegas are going to trade shutouts, that could work out well for the Stars, but I doubt the series follows such a simple pattern. There were definitely some interesting storylines and here are my three takeaways from the game.
1. Missed Opportunities
The Stars didn’t have too many good scoring chances – according to Natural Stat Trick, they only had six high-danger chances in the game, and four came in the second period. Of course, you always want to bury those chances, but considering how well Lehner is playing and how many shots and scoring chances the Golden Knights are generating, it is incredibly important to do just that. Joe Pavelski had probably the best chance of the game for the Stars and failed to convert.
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The miss by Pavelski led to a momentum shift and the Golden Knights scored soon after. With their foot already on the gas and the Stars on their heels, Vegas scored two more goals before the period was over. Momentum is huge in these situations, and while the Stars generated some, their failure to capitalize gifted it back to the Golden Knights, and Dallas was never able to reclaim it. Vegas ended up doubling the number of high-danger scoring chances the Stars had with 12.
2. Sinful Second
Unlike Game 1 where they scored first and played practically perfect hockey, the Stars let out the floodgate of mistakes in the second period. On the first goal by the Golden Knights, they had a terrible change that led to an easy zone entry. Then, in what looked almost like a power play, the Golden Knights worked the puck around and inexperienced NHLer Joel Hanley was left floundering, with John Klingberg doing something other than protecting the net. From there, it was a relatively easy conversion from Max Pacioretty to Paul Stastny. I wonder if Hanley is truly an upgrade from the exciting rookie Thomas Harley.
After the second goal, the Stars fell apart, taking three needless penalties. Corey Perry was reckless with his stick and tripped Jonathan Marchessault, Alexander Radulov slashed Mark Stone, and Jamie Benn, in an attempt to be physical, caught Brayden McNabb on the follow-through of a hit.
This is the opposite of what the Stars needed at this point of the game, and instead of Dallas getting a momentum-changing penalty kill, the Golden Knights doubled their lead. The third goal wasn’t a power-play goal, but the momentum was so clearly in the favor of the Golden Knights it might as well have been. The Stars simply had no answer and were lucky the game wasn’t 5-0 at the end of the second.
3. Rookie Goalie Debut Makes History
This loss was not on Anton Khudobin. Sure, a save percentage (SV%) of .889 isn’t great and far off his mark, but you cannot pin those goals on him. The last goal was a 1-on-3 where Klingberg made the mistake of taking no one and let a cross-ice pass occur, which is nearly impossible for a goalie to save in that situation.
According to Evolving Hockey, Khudobin is just behind Lehner in the 2020 playoffs, saving 2.58 goals above expected (Lehner has 3.67) good for eighth-best. I fully expect to see Khudobin get the start in Game 3. It was, however, pretty exciting to see the NHL debut of Jake Oettinger.
The 6-foot-4 Minnesota native played the third period after Khudobin was given the rest of the night off. The Golden Knights took their foot off the gas a bit in the third, but did manage to generate one high-danger scoring chance and had five shots on goal.
Oettinger is the future for the Stars in net, so this is great experience for him. Hopefully for the Stars’ sake, though, this is the last action he sees in these playoffs. 2019-20 was his first full season in the AHL for the Texas Stars, and he was great. He put up a SV% of .917 and a goals against average of 2.57 to go with his 15 wins and 16 losses for a not very good Texas team.
Will it be another shutout when the Stars are the designated home team on Thursday, or will both teams finally score in one game? Going back to their second-round series, the Golden Knights have been involved in four straight games with a shutout.
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The bigger question is, what will this series look like when both teams are at their best? Each team has clearly shown their strengths at times, but there hasn’t been as much back-and-forth. Can one struggling team wrestle the momentum from the other? It will be fun to see.