LAS VEGAS — Brett Howden‘s game-winning goal less than two minutes into overtime gave the Vegas Golden Knights a 4-3 win Friday night against the Dallas Stars in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
The sequence that led to the Golden Knights taking a 1-0 series lead was just as quick as overtime itself.
Chandler Stephenson carried possession into the Stars’ zone before playing a centering pass to Mark Stone. He then fed an instant backhanded pass to Howden, who was left alone at the net front. Howden’s initial shot went wide, but he recovered the rebound off the boards and fired a shot beneath the goal line that he banked off Jake Oettinger for the win.
“I just tried throwing it in there and got lucky that it went in,” Howden said. “I think Oettinger put it in himself. I was just trying to throw it in there and see what would happen.”
Howden’s goal is the latest in a narrative that has come to define the Golden Knights during these playoffs: They’re a team that can get goals from their entire lineup. The Golden Knights have had 14 different players score goals these playoffs, equaling the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers (the Stars lead the way with 15).
Stars winger Jason Robertson, who did not score in the second round against the Seattle Kraken, staked his team to a 1-0 lead with less than 90 seconds remaining in the first period from a deflection off a shot from Roope Hintz.
Golden Knights center William Karlsson tied it at 1 in the second period before giving the Golden Knights a 2-1 lead just 1:19 into the third period. Both of Karlsson’s goals were a byproduct of his constant movement. Karlsson carried the puck into the Stars zone and played a pass to Zach Whitecloud. Karlsson kept skating and was able to get to the net front right as Whitecloud’s shot went off the boards with Karlsson there to collect the rebound and fire it into an open net.
His second goal was the result of a blocked shot that led to a 50-50 puck that Karlsson snagged before creating a little bit of separation before firing off a wrister that beat Oettinger for the lead.
“Well, the first goal, I kind of got lucky, I’d say,” Karlsson said. “I’m sure Whitey was trying to put that one on the net. I just wanted to be first for the possible rebound, but it went behind the net instead and perfectly to me. On the second one, I was just kind of backing up and trying to play safe and there was a chance for me to grab the puck. It’s hard to explain but I try to be in the right place and that pays off sometimes.”
Hintz, who had a hand in all three of the Stars’ goals, tied it at 2 before Teddy Blueger scored what looked like the initial game-winning goal with a little more than 10 minutes left in the third period.
Blueger’s goal was his first of the postseason and just his second career playoff tally. But it came at a time that allowed the Golden Knights to take what was ultimately a temporary edge from another source of offensive production.
“I think we have good depth at all positions — goaltending, defense, forwards,” Blueger said. “I think whoever is in the lineup can do the job. That’s probably what it is.”
Blueger’s goal also led to a late push by the Stars. Vegas controlled most of the possession in the game with a shot-share of more than 71 percent in the first period, followed by 55.6 percent in the second in 5-on-5 play, according to Natural Stat Trick. Dallas countered by owning the puck with a 63.4 percent shot-share, which played a significant role in why the Stars had 16 shots in the third compared to the Golden Knights with eight.
Creating and maintaining that level of pressure resulted in the Stars pulling Oettinger for a 6-on-5 advantage that set the stage for captain Jamie Benn‘s game-tying goal. Benn, along with Joe Pavelski and Hintz, were camped at the net front when Miro Heiskanen‘s shot from the point reached Golden Knights goaltender Adin Hill to create a scramble on net.
Hintz and Pavelski fought for possession with Pavelski sliding the puck over to Benn, who passed it into the net with 1:59 left in the third. And while Benn’s goal did tie the score, it also represented something else.
Namely? How these playoffs have seen Hintz go from one of the Stars’ most open secrets into a player who has become a front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
This was the sixth time Hintz finished with more than two points in a game, and he’s had more than three points in five of those performances. It’s why Hintz will enter Game 2 leading the NHL with 22 points in the playoffs. Panthers star winger Matthew Tkachuk would be the closest player of those still playing and he’s trailing Hintz by five points.
With Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday between the Panthers and Hurricanes going to four overtimes, there was some expectation that the Stars and Golden Knights could possibly create another lengthy battle Friday.
Instead, Howden ended it early.
“It can’t always be the stars, right? Or the guys that you would expect, and that’s what’s been good about our team,” Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We’ve had different people step up in key moments. It’s the time of the year where you got to enjoy the moment and kind of embrace it. Raise your hand if you had Howden in your pool in overtime? You probably went in a different direction and that’s good for us. That’s why we’ve been able to win.”
Taking Game 1 has not been a necessity for the Golden Knights. They lost 5-1 to open the first round against the Winnipeg Jets before winning in six. But they did win Game 1 versus the Edmonton Oilers before clinching that series in six wins.
Yet here’s why beating the Stars in Game 1’s this postseason comes with a rather intriguing caveat. The Minnesota Wild beat the Stars in overtime to open their first-round series. The Kraken also beat the Stars in overtime to open their second-round series.
Guess how that turned out for the Wild and Kraken? The Stars beat the Wild in six games before ending the upstart Kraken’s season in seven games.
“The good news is that the other two ended the right way,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said when asked about losing a third straight series in overtime. “That’s what we’ll hope for, but you got to win some overtime games too in the playoffs. You can’t go 0-for-3, 0-for-4 in the playoffs in overtime. That’s something we’ve got to get fixed quickly.”
Howden scores early in OT as Golden Knights top Stars in Game 1