5 Things We Learned: Golden Knights vs. Stars

Story posted September 17, 2020 in

The Dallas Stars advanced to the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night, coming back from a 2-0 third-period deficit against the Vegas Golden Knights after Denis Gurianov scored 3:36 into overtime. Gurianov’s goal, a power-play tally that came after a critical delay of game penalty by Vegas rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud, clinched the first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 2000 for Dallas, which came into the series as a heavy underdog. Here are five things we learned after this five-game series.

1. Anton Khudobin is a legitimate Conn Smythe Trophy contender

In 2017, days after acquiring him from Los Angeles, the Stars signed Ben Bishop to a six-year extension to be the goaltender of their future. However, just three years later, it is Anton Khudobin, signed specifically to back up Bishop, who has shut down the red hot Flames, offensive juggernaut Avalanche and No. 1 seed Golden Knights to lead the Stars to the Final. Dallas would not be here without Khudobin, and he has proven throughout the past six weeks that he can be a reliable number one goaltender.

2. High flying offense may be sexy, but defense wins (conference) championships

In addition to Khudobin’s repeated sensational performances in net, Dallas was able to shut down Vegas’s usually high-octane offense. Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg led the Dallas defense in keeping Vegas to under two goals per game, helping Dallas dominate 5-on-5 play. The Stars were able to turn the series in their favor by utilizing their special teams as well and by dictating the game in their own zone, which they did significantly better than Vegas.

3. A two-goalie system won’t win the Cup

The Golden Knights primarily used Robin Lehner in goal throughout their time in Edmonton, yet Marc-Andre Fleury had been called upon in each round of the playoffs at least once. Fleury, who had started every playoff game in Golden Knights history prior to 2020, was the team’s primary goalie during the regular season and was even tabbed by Pete DeBoer to start Game 1 of the Western Conference Final, which Dallas won. History tells us that it is nearly impossible to ride two goalies all the way through the playoffs, and the Golden Knights could not break that trend with their lack of confidence in one netminder, Just last year, St. Louis’ Jordan Binnington dominated while playing every playoff game for the Blues, and Washington’s Braden Holtby nearly did the same in 2018, starting with Game 3 of the first round.

4. Rick Bowness should return for Dallas next season

The Stars’ interim head coach Rick Bowness was hired in December in the wake of Jim Montgomery’s firing due to “unprofessional conduct.” He led them to a 20-13-5 record before the season paused in March and has had the team firing on all cylinders while in the bubble. While interim coaches have led teams to the Stanley Cup Final before (including last year, when Craig Berube won the Cup with the Blues), it is exceedingly rare. Especially since Bowness came into a delicate situation after his predecessor had to enroll in alcohol rehabilitation, he has done a very impressive job and deserves his “interim” tag removed, as well as a new contract.

5. Offseason moves make all the difference

Dallas made a big splash in free agency this offseason, signing two legends who had played over 1000 games for California teams: Corey Perry, from Anaheim, and Joe Pavelski, longtime captain of the Sharks. Both on the ice and as leaders, these two replaced the departed Jason Spezza and Mats Zuccarello. Perry and Pavelski have been integral to the Stars making the jump to the Cup Final, adding depth, timely scoring and grittiness to the lineup. Pavelski has excelled in a top-six role, and Perry, who set up Gurianov on the Game 5 overtime goal, has played a major role in the playoff breakout of rookie Joel Kiviranta. Throw in lockdown defenseman Andrej Sekera, who was also acquired this past offseason, it’s clear that the moves made by Dallas’s front office never shone more brightly than at the best possible time.

 

Jeremy Schooler is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jeremysschooler@gmail.com.