NHL Playoff Daily: Golden Knights already have Stars on the ropes

After being the Western Conference’s best team across 82 games, the Dallas Stars are already in must-win territory of their first-round playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights. 

Dallas dropped Game 2 3-1 on Wednesday, falling behind 2-0 in the series as it shifts back to Las Vegas. 

The Stars have been in this position before, in the Western Conference Final in 2023, and they dropped the ball that time in a series that ultimately ended their season and served as the last speed bump between Vegas and the Stanley Cup. 

Vegas also isn’t your typical No. 8 seed or second wild card. 

While the Washington Capitals haven’t been much more than roughage for the New York Rangers to bowl through, the Golden Knights are a defending Stanley Cup champion that re-loaded using LTIR rules and might be even better at full strength than they were last season. 

In this series a key for Dallas was going to be stopping the Vegas machine before it got up and running. They’ve failed at that, and in Game 2 the Golden Knights started revving up into the defensive juggernaut that most teams fear. 

Vegas defended the blue line better than they had in the opener, effectively turning the Stars into more of a chip-and-chase team. It’s a battle the Stars accepted, but it’s also a battle that Vegas is better suited to win with its personnel on the backend. 

The Golden Knights also continued to focus on clogging and eliminating the slot, particularly whenever Joe Pavelski was on the ice. That made it an easy night for Vegas goalie Logan Thompson, who looked sharper and more composed after Game 1. The rebounds weren’t nearly as juicy, his footing was better, and he read plays better. 

Those were the tactical body blows that Vegas needed before eventually delivering the knockout on the other end thanks to Jack Eichel and Jonathan Marchessault

The pest at his best 

Brad Marchand, believe it or not, didn’t draw any penalties in Game 3. 

That’s hard to believe after Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe went on a post-game rant and delivered backhanded compliments to the Boston Bruins captain about how elite Marchand is drawing penalties and getting under his team’s skin. 

Marchand did, however, effectively push Boston to a 2-1 series lead with his play on the ice in a 4-2 victory. 

Marchand scored twice and had a primary assist in the third period as Boston turned a 2-0 deficit after 40 minutes into a 4-2 victory. 

Marchand’s line with Charlie Coyle and Morgan Geekie devastated the Maple Leafs at even strength. In close to nine minutes that trio was on the ice, the Bruins had a 12-4 edge in shot attempts and Toronto didn’t have a single high-danger chance against the line according to Natural Stat Trick

That doesn’t even include Marchand’s goal at even strength, where he had just joined the play on a line change and took a feed from Danton Heinen before sniping home the game-winning goal. 

King’s ransom

Out west, the captain of the Los Angeles Kings delivered for his team, even his overall game comes with less antagonistic antics. 

Anze Kopitar had two assists and scored the game-winning goal in overtime as Los Angeles won Game 2 5-4 and evened its series with the Edmonton Oilers at 1-1. 

Edmonton was the better team by most accounts. The Oilers outshot the Kings 31-26, had a 14-8 edge in high-danger chances and aside from some Los Angeles surges, Edmonton controlled the pace for most of the game. 

But when Kopitar was on the ice, things were different. 

Kopitar’s line with Adrian Kempe and Quinton Byfield scored thrice, had a 15-7 edge in shot attempts and an 8-4 edge in scoring chances. They created both on the rush and in the zone, despite only getting one offensive zone start at even strength. 

Los Angeles got the split it needed before the series goes back to California. 

Now it’s a series. 

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This article is about:
NHL Boston Bruins Dallas Stars Edmonton Oilers Los Angeles Kings Toronto Maple Leafs Vegas Golden Knights NHL Quinton Byfield Charlie Coyle Jack Eichel Morgan Geekie Danton Heinen Adrian Kempe Anze Kopitar Brad Marchand Jonathan Marchessault Joe Pavelski Logan Thompson
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