The NHL Western Conference Final began Sunday night with the Dallas Stars jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Stars entered the conference finals coming off a Game 7 victory against the Colorado Avalanche and a first-round series with the Calgary Flames. Meanwhile, Vegas came off a Game 7 victory against the Vancouver Canucks and a first-round matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks.
On Sunday night, Stars captain Jamie Benn’s shot was blocked at the hash marks by a Vegas player, but Stars defenseman John Klingberg picked up the rebound and sent a wrist shot past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for the 1-0 lead at 2:36 of the first period. In a tightly contested, defensive-minded game, that early goal would prove to be the game-winner as the Stars held on for the 1-0 shutout victory.
The Dallas Stars, though far from the favorite coming into the playoffs, are a tough team to beat right now. They can score goals in bunches and don’t allow many in their own net either. They currently have five players with 12 or more points in their 17 playoff games, with defenseman Miro Heiskanen’s 21 (5G, 16A) leading all players left in the playoffs. Likewise, they are scoring on 27.3% of their power play opportunities, which is the highest mark of any remaining playoff team. They are also getting excellent goaltending from their backup-turned-starter Anton Khudobin, who took over for an injured Ben Bishop in the first round. Khudobin has gone 9-5 in the playoffs, with a .914 save percentage, while leading his team to within three games of the Stanley Cup Final.
Though Vegas has also gotten excellent goaltending throughout the postseason, they are mired in a scoring slump they’ll need to escape if they want to go to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in their three seasons. In their past four games this postseason, the Golden Knights have scored only two non-empty net goals, and only one was at 5-on-5. Both goals came from defenseman Shea Theodore, who leads Vegas in scoring with 16 points in 16 playoff games. Though their best player, Mark Stone, has been stellar in the playoffs with 15 points and outstanding defensive play, Vegas needs more offense from their other star forwards William Karlsson (3G, 5A), Jonathan Marchessault (3G, 6A) and Max Pacioretty (5G, 2A). Despite having trouble scoring, their goalies have been stellar thus far. Starter Robin Lehner has gone 8-4 with a .918 save percentage while Marc-Andre Fleury has gone 3-1 with a .910 save percentage. Though Lehner was outstanding against the Canucks in the second round with three shoutouts in seven games, Fleury drew the Game 1 start because he was more well-rested. Vegas is likely to turn back to Lehner for Game 2.
Game 2 is on Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 8:00 p.m. EST.