Thanks to their 2-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday night, the Dallas Stars find themselves with a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Final and are just one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years.
There is really only one reason they are in this position.
That reason is goalie Anton Khudobin.
He was sensational once again on Saturday, turning aside 32 out of 33 shots to once again shut down the Golden Knights’ offense.
It is hard to watch these games and look at the lopsided shot total and not come to the conclusion that Vegas has pushed the play for most of the first four games. They are dominating the puck, they are living in the Dallas end of the ice, and they are generating by far the most shots and chances. You can talk about the “quality” of the shots and whether or not they have enough traffic in front of the net all you want, but the bottom line is they are getting the majority of the shots and the better of the chances.
And right now none of it is mattering.
Goaltending is always going to be a game-changing element in the playoffs, especially if your team gets a player on a hot streak for a few games. The Stars are getting exactly that with Khudobin and it is the difference in the series. All three of their wins have been by a single goal, while they have only scored 1, 3, and 2 goals respectively in those wins. Anything less than near perfection from Khudobin and this series could have easily turned into a laugher in the opposite direction.
The only shot to beat Khudobin on Saturday night was an Alec Martinez one-timer early in the second period to give the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead.
But it was only about four minutes later that Joe Pavelski scored the equalizer when he pounced on a Nate Schmidt turnover and beat Robin Lehner (on a backhand shot that Schmidt accidentally deflected in his effort to get back into the play).
Jamie Benn continued his great postseason by scoring a power play goal later in the period. That goal proved to be the game-winner.
Khudobin and the Stars were able to hold on to that lead late in the third period by killing off an extended 5-on-3 advantage where he turned aside three shots.
No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars (Stars lead series 3-1)
Game 1: Stars 1, Golden Knights 0 (recap)
Game 2: Golden Knights 3, Stars 0 (recap)
Game 3: Stars 3, Golden Knights 2 [OT] (recap)
Game 4: Stars 2, Golden Knights 1
Game 5: Monday, Sept. 14, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
*Game 6: Wednesday, Sept. 16, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Game 7: Friday, Sept. 18, 9 p.m. ET – NBCSN
MORE STANLEY CUP COVERAGE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Final schedule