Golden Knights fall 2-1 in Game 7 as Stars end Vegas’ reign as Stanley Cup champions

The Vegas Golden Knights suffered a 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal Sunday night at American Airlines Center, thus bringing Vegas’ defense of its Stanley Cup title to an end.

Golden Knights fall 2-1 in Game 7 as Stars end Vegas’ reign as Stanley Cup champions

Dallas scored the game-winning goal less than a minute into the third period in yet another close game, eliminating the Golden Knights one year after Vegas defeated Dallas in six games en route to its first Stanley Cup championship. Brett Howden potted the lone goal for Vegas.

The goaltending for both teams was solid once again. Both netminders turned aside 22 shots, but Jake Oettinger’s .957 save percentage bested Adin Hill’s .917 in the end.

First period

It was a tightly-checked opening frame in which the Golden Knights held a 3-0 edge in high-danger chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. However, it was the Stars who pulled ahead, grabbing a 1-0 lead 14:34 into the contest on Wyatt Johnston’s fourth of the series.

As is often the case, the goal came right after a glorious opportunity at the other end of the rink. Jonathan Marchessault had a wide-open net but struck iron, and then a Shea Theodore turnover on a failed exit ended up in Vegas’ net. Johnston beat Hill under the glove with a laser from the slot for his seventh point of the playoffs.

Vegas killed off the only penalty of the frame after Keegan Kolesar was whistled for holding. The Golden Knights had their chances in the opening 20 minutes but were unable to capitalize.

Second period

The Stars had a strong push early in the second period, but Hill and the Golden Knights were able to hold them off until Vegas found its game. Despite extended time in the offensive zone, the Golden Knights didn’t generate many threatening chances on Oettinger.

Eventually, though, the Golden Knights broke through on the rush.

It was a well-executed passing play that started with an Alex Pietrangelo stretch pass out of the zone and ended with a perfect backdoor feed by Michael Amadio, who found Howden all alone for the tap-in.

Howden’s first of the series reset the score at 15:25 of the second.

In the final minute of the period, Jack Eichel cut through the Dallas defense and drew Oettinger out of position with a beautiful deke, but his backhand bid hit the side of the net.

It was a great individual effort by Eichel, but he was unable to finish, leaving the two clubs tied at 1-1 through 40 minutes.

Third period

The Stars wasted no time in the third period, as Radek Faksa scored just 44 seconds in.

It was a strong shift by Dallas’ fourth line, which won multiple races in the offensive zone before Faksa’s backhand shot from the circle beat Hill. The puck deflected off Alec Martinez on its way towards the cage; it proved to be the series-clinching tally.

The Stars didn’t sit back after the goal, stringing together many dominant shifts to keep the Golden Knights on their heels. In fact, it was all Dallas through the first eight minutes, but the Golden Knights had a chance to steal the momentum when they got their first power play of the game with 11:44 remaining. It was the second questionable call of the night, but it set up a critical opportunity for Vegas.

However, the Golden Knights did not rise to the occasion, failing to get set up or even test Oettinger.

The Golden Knights continued to push for the equalizer, but Dallas forced turnovers and kept Vegas to the perimeter. The Golden Knights pulled Hill with 1:50 to go but were unable to light the lamp and keep their season alive.

As a result, Pete DeBoer — who is now 8-0 all-time in Game 7’s — and the Dallas Stars will move on to face the Colorado Avalanche in the second round, while the Golden Knights will have an extended offseason one year after hoisting Lord Stanley’s prize.

Though Vegas blew a 2-0 lead, it was a tight series until the very end. Vegas and Dallas scored 16 goals apiece in the seven-game matchup, but home-ice advantage proved to be a deciding factor in the back half of the series, as the home team won every game.

Dallas never trailed in front of its home crowd in the decisive Game 7. Instead, the Stars led by one goal for just over two periods (40:07) of action.

“I think there were a lot of us that would have liked to produce a little more, but it was a tight series,” Vegas captain Mark Stone said. “I think we could have won all seven of these games; I think we could have lost all seven of these games. It’s just the way the series was. The goalie was out in all the games to try to tie it for all teams. … It was great hockey. Unfortunately, we didn’t come up on the right side of it.”

The Stars made one extra play to tilt the series in their favor.

“At the end of the day, we gave ourselves a chance in Game 7 to win the series against a very good hockey team, and we didn’t get it done,” Stone said.

Game 7 came down to execution.

The Stars took advantage of a Vegas turnover late in the first and then cashed in on a deflection at the end of a hard-working shift at the start of the third. The Golden Knights, on the other hand, had prime opportunities but didn’t capitalize.

Both Marchessault and Eichel failed to put away empty-net looks, and the third-period power play fell flat with the season on the line.

“We needed to be one goal better, and we weren’t tonight,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I think a couple of our players will probably not sleep tonight, because if you look at what transpired in the game, we hit a post, they come down and score 10 seconds later. We miss an open net at the end of the second, and they score on the first shift of the third. [Dallas] played well, but it’s a fortunate bounce off our guy.”

The bounces didn’t seem to go in Vegas’ favor in Game 7. The same can be said of the season as a whole.

Most notably, the Golden Knights battled injuries all year. In fact, Cassidy revealed after the game that nine different players had surgery this season. He also said that William Karlsson had a lower-body injury that limited him throughout the series.

“He was not 100 percent; I can say that, you could see that,” Cassidy said. “We tried to get Karly as much ice time as he could handle. … I thought he gave us everything he had.”

But the Golden Knights ran into a deep Dallas Stars team. In Game 7, the Stars looked particularly hungry in the third period. After grabbing their second lead of the game, the Stars held the Golden Knights to just three scoring chances and zero high-danger chances in the final 19:16 of the game, per Natural Stat Trick.

“It’s disappointing,” Stone said. “That’s really the only way to say it.”

After retaining almost their entire roster in the offseason and adding key pieces at the deadline, including Noah Hanifin and Tomas Hertl, the Golden Knights expected to make a deep run and had their sights set on defending their Cup title.

As Cassidy said last year, it hurts to win. But it also hurts to lose.

Stone spoke about both following the game.

“People say [winning] is addicting, and it is. I live for this shit,” he said. “As a hockey player, this is the most fun time that you’re ever gonna play when you’re playing hockey. You want to be competing for the Stanley Cup, so when you do lose and you get eliminated, it’s just hard. It kind of crushes your soul for a couple days.”

The Golden Knights will not be able to keep this group together and could lose several key pieces in the offseason. But Stone is confident the Golden Knights will be back in the playoffs competing for the Cup next year, and he intends to use this “disappointing” result to fuel that effort.

“We’ve always been good at having a chip on our shoulder, so we gotta use this as another chip,” he said.

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