Chandler Stephenson #20 of the Vegas Golden Knights scores a game-winning overtime goal against the Dallas Stars with teammates in Game Two of the Western Conference Final. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
By Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer
May 21, 2023
LAS VEGAS — The Vegas Golden Knights would probably take the first 50 minutes of the game film from Sunday and throw it over Hoover Dam into Lake Mead.
“It wasn’t our best game,” forward Chandler Stephenson said. “We weren’t too happy with it.”
Doesn’t matter. They hung around as a good veteran team does and found some offense when they needed it most.
Jonathan Marchessault tied the game with 2:22 remaining in the third period before Stephenson scored 72 seconds into overtime to give Vegas a 3-2 win in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars at T-Mobile Arena on Sunday.
Vegas has won four straight games and leads the best-of-7 series 2-0. Game 3 is at American Airlines Center in Dallas on Tuesday.
“Jack [Eichel] said it between the second and third (periods), because we’re playing a bad game [doesn’t mean] we can’t find a way to win a hockey game,” Marchessault said. “I don’t think we played great, but good teams at this time of the year it doesn’t matter, you find a way to win a hockey game. We were winners.”
The Golden Knights were down 2-1 entering the third period, but considering how little offense they were able to generate for 40 minutes, it seemed as if they had a much bigger hill to climb than just needing one goal.
They had 10 shots on goal and 25 total shot attempts through two periods. Their lone goal, off Mark Stone‘s stick, came 37 seconds into what would have been a two-minute 5-on-3 at 10:08 of the first period.
The Stars were suffocating them otherwise, giving them no room in the middle of the ice. Vegas couldn’t get a forecheck going. Passes were off the tape, not crisp. The Golden Knights looked slow. They were not skating together. They looked uncertain with the puck.
“They were checking well, and we didn’t execute well enough early on,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I think there was a little level of frustration in the second period. They did a good job, but then you’re never out of the game when it’s only one goal. So, we were doing enough to stay in the game, but we weren’t at our game.”
They were doing enough because they weren’t giving up much on the other end either.
Dallas had 17 shots on goal through two periods. It had goals from Miro Heiskanen off a Vegas stick at 2:47 of the first and Jason Robertson on a power play at 9:21 of the second, after the puck went off a Vegas leg in the slot.
“That’s important,” Eichel said. “When you’re not generating as much offense as you want, it’s important to be good defensively and not give them any chances to extend their lead. You just kind of hang around.”
That’s what the Golden Knights did into the third period, when about halfway through they finally started to get some speed going, started to generate a forecheck, create some space, get some shots on goal.
Marchessault had a great look from the left face-off circle with just under nine minutes to play, but he went low to the short side and hit Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger in the right pad.
“The goalie made the save, but I think he wanted to go maybe in a different spot,” Cassidy said. “I could tell, he was back on the bench swearing in French, so I knew he missed his shot. He wasn’t just upset that the guy saved it.”
He didn’t miss on his next chance, a pretty goal from the slot off a remarkable backhand pass from below the goal line by Eichel that was created off the Golden Knights’ forecheck.
Stars defenseman Ryan Suter had the puck behind the goal line and moved it lightly around the net and up the boards, but Ivan Barbashev got to it at the half wall and shoveled it back down to Eichel, who quickly found Marchessault cutting to the net, splitting in between Suter and forward Evgenii Dadonov.
Suter said it obviously wasn’t the right play to make, but he probably doesn’t make it without the Golden Knights forechecking the way they were in the third. Suter didn’t get hit, but Eichel took the right route to the puck and had a bead on him, forcing him to move it.
“I thought we did a good job on the forecheck, got to our spots, made a couple quick plays,” Eichel said. “They do a good job of trying to condense the zone, shrink it, and I think we got out of that shrink quick and made a play to the net.”
It was earned, the right play at the right time. Everything changed.
“Once ‘Marchy’ scored it brought a lot of life to us,” Stephenson said. “The crowd was into it. Everybody was into it. ‘Stoney’ rung one off the post right after that. After that one it was like, ‘All right, we’re back in this,’ and we just have that belief that we’re not going to lose.”
They needed a timely save from Adin Hill on a point-blank chance from Wyatt Johnston in the slot 28 seconds into overtime to have a chance, but Stephenson finished it off, scoring from the left side off a rebound from Shea Theodore‘s shot at 1:12 of overtime.
Vegas is 3-0 in overtime, 4-0 in one-goal games, and 7-3 when allowing the first goal in a game in the playoffs.
“They like to win, and they know how to win when the game gets close, and when it’s winning time,” Cassidy said. “We don’t always look great doing it and I’ll be the first to admit that. We’re working on that everyday but at the end of the day there’s an inner confidence in the group.”