Stars advance to Stanley Cup Final

The Stars pour off the bench to celebrate a Game Five won they won’t soon forget. They came back to defeat the Golden Knights 3-2 last night to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. AP Photo credit Dallas Stars via Getty Images

While I went to sleep with them trailing by two goals in the third period, the Stars had other ideas. Astonishingly, they came back to eliminate the Golden Knights 3-2 in sudden death last night.

Given how the series was played, I didn’t believe the Western Conference Final would end in five games. For about 50 minutes, it looked like that would be true. Vegas on a first period breakaway goal from Chandler Stephenson and a third period tally from Reilly Smith had a 2-0 lead.

In fact, they had only allowed 15 shots at that point. I think they led in shots 28-15. Being tired, I decided to shut the game off and rest. When I awoke a few hours later, I was shocked to see our chat talking about the Golden Knights going home. Based on the reactions from Brian and Robert, who obviously razzed friend George due to his Vegas Brew penchant, I sat in my bed puzzled.

What happened? Well, the Stars got back in it on a Jamie Benn rebound. The veteran Stars captain came through in that series. He was able to deliver some big goals at key moments. While Tyler Seguin couldn’t finish, he sacrificed his body by diving in front to block shots. That was notable. If you’re not scoring, you can still contribute to a successful series victory. To his credit, he did.

Late in regulation, rookie Joel Kiviranta scored on the power play off another rebound with traffic to tie the score with 3:47 left in regulation. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a seeing eye point shot that can give a goalie trouble if you get bodies to the net. Dallas had two and it paid off against Vegas starter Robin Lehner to force overtime.

In it, one of those needless Delay of Game penalties on Alex Tuch came back to haunt the Knights. John Klingberg froze the four Vegas penalty killers enough to then slide a good pass across for a quick one-timer from Denis Gurianov, who was able to sneak a good shot off Lehner and by him short side for the series clincher.

Gurianov, who earlier this postseason had a four goal game, played the ultimate hero to send the Stars to the Stanley Cup Final. He’s been a factor throughout their run. They were patient with him after he came over from Russia. Now, he’s paying dividends. This is advisable to the Rangers regarding Russian prospect Vitali Kravtsov, who’s spending the season in the KHL where he already has two goals in four games for Chelyabinsk Traktor. Sometimes, patience pays off.

So, for the first time since Y2K was a thing, the Dallas Stars will play for the Cup. It’s been 20 years since they were unable to successfully defend the Cup in a hard fought six game classic to the Devils. The last two games needed five overtimes. Mike Modano won Game Five in triple overtime. Then Jason Arnott won Game Six in double overtime on a gorgeous set up from Patrik Elias to give the Devils their second Cup.

Dallas has had some chances since then, but lost in the Conference Final over a decade ago. They had one run with Brad Richards before he left for the Rangers. It just wasn’t to be.

This time, in a crazy year, they are the last team standing to represent the West. They were better than the Avalanche and Golden Knights to earn this trip to play for Lord Stanley. That is a great accomplishment. Overlooked by me and many other pundits coming in, I think we forgot how close they were to beating eventual 2018-19 champion St. Louis. It took a goal from Pat Maroon in sudden death of Game Seven to help the Blues advance past the second round. I underestimated them.

The credit goes to Anton Khudobin, who has been a rock in net. He’s stood on his head and proven to be the right goalie at the right time for these pesky Stars. They do it with grit, determination and a lot of board battles. They win ugly. They don’t blow you away in terms of offense like potential opponent Tampa ‘if’ they can finish off the Islanders.

Dallas is all heart. Even when Seguin isn’t scoring, Benn and Alex Radulov can deliver in big moments. When they struggle, it’s other players like Gurianov, Joe Pavelski, Roope Hintz and the great D tandem of Miro Heiskanen and Klingberg who do the damage. How about Jamie Oleksiak. He only set up the Kiviranta Game Seven winner last round in overtime from behind the net. Corey Perry isn’t what he once was, but always battles. That experience helps. So do gritty guys like Blake Comeau, who do the little things that help win at this critical time of year.

So, it’s the Stars who’ll play in the franchise’s fifth Stanley Cup. They lost twice as the Minnesota North Stars in ’81 to the Islanders and ’91 to the Penguins. It wasn’t until ’99 that they won the Cup in Dallas by defeating the Sabres in six games on Brett Hull’s controversial goal in triple overtime due to his toe being in the crease. A foolish rule that was changed. They lost to the Devils in six in 2000. The only Conference Final since came in ’08 when they lost to eventual champion Detroit in six.

Now, they’re here despite the low scoring and tight checking style they play. A strict system contingent on defense and the goaltending of Conn Smythe candidate Khudobin, who’s come up with many huge saves during this run, it’s a style similar to the 2003 Devils. The only difference is that team boasted Hall of Famers including Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens and great coach Pat Burns. They didn’t always win due to the star players. Insert Jeff Friesen, Grant Marshall and Mike Rupp.

That’s how the Stars are. To think it’s longtime veteran coach Rick Bowness, who took over for Jim Montgomery, they deserve a ton of credit. They’ll now await who their opponent will be.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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