DALLAS — The Dallas Stars avoided a Western Conference finals sweep by the Vegas Golden Knights with a 3-2 Game 4 victory Thursday, thanks to forward Joe Pavelski‘s power-play goal 3:18 into overtime.
Now comes the hard part: trying to become the first team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 deficit to win the round before the Stanley Cup Final. Teams leading the conference finals or semifinals 3-0 have a 47-0 series record, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
In the process, the Stars would become the fifth team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 hole and win a playoff series. Teams holding that lead in the Stanley Cup playoffs have a series record of 201-4.
Pavelski knows better than anyone that it can be done. Because he was on the other side for one of those four rallies.
In 2014, the San Jose Sharks won the first three games against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. Pavelski watched as the eventual Stanley Cup champions won four straight to take the series.
“They’re not fun when you’re on the other side of it. But you then understand that it can happen,” he said.
Game 5 of the Western Conference finals is Saturday night back in Las Vegas, where the Stars dropped the first two games of the series in overtime.
“It’s such a fine line this time of year. You’re going good and then all of a sudden you’re in a 3-0 hole. So we’ll see where this goes. We’ll get some rest and we’ll look to do it again. Keep trying to put a little doubt in their minds,” Pavelski said.
Dallas scored twice on the power play in Game 4, both times with Brayden McNabb in the penalty box for high sticking. In overtime, McNabb’s stick connected with Stars forward Ty Dellandrea‘s face. While no penalty was initially signaled, the on-ice officials consulted and then called over McNabb from the Vegas bench to enter the penalty box.
Pavelski’s one-timer off a feed from defenseman Miro Heiskanen beat Vegas goalie Adin Hill (39 saves). It was his ninth goal of the playoffs and kept the Stars’ season alive.
“That’s what you’ve got to guard against. That those guys don’t get excited to play and [this] gets them going,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said after the loss. “You’re always concerned about that, that it’ll spark their team.”
The Stars had plenty of motivation for Game 4, but something the players said they seized on was winning Game 4 for forward Jamie Benn. The Dallas captain was given a two-game suspension by the NHL Department of Player Safety on Wednesday for cross-checking Vegas forward Mark Stone in the face in Game 3. Benn was ejected in the first period for that incident.
Pavelski said the team has talked about extending the series to at least Game 6, so Benn can return to playoff action. “It’s a tight-knit group in there. I know when I went out in Game 1 against Minnesota [in the first round], there were guys talking about playing hard and buying some extra time so I would be able to get back,” said Pavelski, who returned to the Stars in Game 1 of the second round against Seattle after Matt Dumba injured him.
“Jamie means everything for the guys in there. He leads the way. We want to extend this and get him back. We got the win we needed here. We have to keep our focus narrowed in and on the next game and keep trying to earn that extra time.”
Some of the Stars’ best players stepped up when they were needed the most in Game 4.
Jason Robertson scored Dallas’ other two goals. With McNabb in the box, Robertson had one of the most dexterous goals of the postseason. He deflected a shot on Hill and then tapped a rebound out of the air to himself, tucking it into the net at 15:42 of the first period for his third goal in four games against Vegas.
That tied it at 1-1 after Vegas center William Karlsson had scored just 4:17 into the game.
It was 2-1 for the Golden Knights after Jonathan Marchessault scored his eighth goal of the postseason at 10:23 of the second period. The Stars tied the game again thanks to an energetic bit of forechecking from Dellandrea and Max Domi. Robertson joined the play and put a puck off the post. Defenseman Esa Lindell‘s shot from the point hit the end boards and bounced to Robertson for his second goal of the night at 17:21 of the second.
Robertson finished with a game-high 11 shots on goal.
Meanwhile, Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger had his best outing of the series, making 37 saves.
Things spiraled for the Stars in Game 3 after Vegas scored early. While Oettinger wasn’t happy giving up an early goal again in Game 4, the Stars didn’t unravel this time.
“We’ve responded well, and I knew we were going to score at least one goal. So I was just trying to make the next save,” he said.
Oettinger said he believes the Stars’ Game 4 win won’t be their last.
“Three out of four games in overtime shows you how tight these two teams are. This gives us the belief we can beat these guys,” he said. “We can build on what we did tonight.”
That belief could be found throughout the Dallas dressing room after the game — and perhaps back in Las Vegas for Game 5.
“We’ve got a great group here,” forward Roope Hintz said. “We’re not quitters. We’re going to show them.”