Ric Flair in the building for Dallas. Wooo! Ric Flair taking selfies with Tie Domi and Mike Tyson. Wooo! Domi explaining hockey to Tyson. Wooo! Joe Pavelski scoring in overtime. Wooo!
On a Thursday night for icons at American Airlines Center, Pavelski was the only one still playing. And because of him, so are the Dallas Stars.
Pavelski hammered a puck into the top corner of the Vegas Golden Knights’ net at 3:18 of overtime as the Stars won 3-2 and did what the Carolina Hurricanes failed to do against the Florida Panthers in the other National Hockey League conference final: win at least once.
The goal also moved Pavelski, the 38-year-old American still seeking his first Stanley Cup, past Alex Ovechkin for the active lead in career playoff scoring with his 73rd post-season tally – nearly two-thirds of them arriving after Pavelski turned 30.
The one-timer, perfectly teed up by Miro Heiskanen, allowed the Stars to avoid the ignominy of a four-game sweep. But they wake Friday morning to the sobering reality that the Golden Knights, who led twice in Game 4, still lead the Western Conference Final 3-1 and Dallas will need to replicate its immense effort three more times without fail – and twice on the road.
Game 5 is Saturday in Las Vegas.
In May and June, the bottom line is all that matters in the NHL. But the Stars can boost themselves mentally knowing they just slayed an OT demon by winning in extra time in these playoffs for the first time in five tries; that with their season in jeopardy, they rallied twice against a hard-boiled Vegas team that doesn’t make many mistakes; and that Dallas did this without captain Jamie Benn, who earned a two-game suspension by dropping the lumber on Mark Stone in Game 3’s 4-0 loss.
“It’s a big win,” Pavelski said afterward. “It’s a start for us. We know our situation. That’s how they got going — with an overtime win (in Game 1). It’s nice to get one here and build from there.”
But … “This is one win. I’m not going to look too much farther ahead than the next game. There’s no reason to. Just going to gear up for that and get ready to go, and go back and compete, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Back to Dallas for a Game 6, if the Stars are lucky.
“We had everyone bring their desperation level all the way up,” winger Jason Robertson said after scoring twice (see below). “It’s an elimination game, so wanted to step up, a lot of guys stepped up, and we’ve got to do that again for Game 5.”
WOOO! FOR THE REFS
After making no initial call on Vegas defenceman Brayden McNabb’s high stick against Ty Dellandrea early in overtime, referees Jean Hebert and Chris Rooney huddled with linesmen Matt MacPherson and David Brisebois to get a critical call right and assess McNabb a minor penalty at 2:28.
Dellandrea may have whiplash-like symptoms on Friday after snapping his head back, but he was definitely whacked on the chin by McNabb when the defenceman tried to lift the Dallas winger’s stick in front of the Vegas net.
Special teams are one of the areas where the Stars were expected to have an advantage over the Knights, who have been dominant at five-on-five in the playoffs. On Thursday, the Dallas power play scored on its only two advantages. Stars penalty-killers blanked the Knights’ power play on its lone chance.
ROBERTSON TURNS THE SCREW
Three rounds into what has been a perplexing playoff run for Jason Robertson, the Stars’ top winger had his best game. A 46-goal sniper from the regular season who didn’t score at all in Dallas’ seven-game win against Seattle in the second round and had only two goals in 13 playoff games before this series, Robertson scored both tying goals and finished with 11 shots on target. Eleven.
He looked dangerous whenever he was near the Vegas net, and his two goals demonstrated Robertson’s sublime hands and scoring instincts. On the first goal, which made it 1-1 at 15:42 of the first period, Robertson redirected Heiskanen’s shot-pass, located the mid-air rebound and bounced the puck with his stick from one side of goalie Adin Hill to the other, then bunted it into the net on his final touch.
On the second, at 17:21 of the second, he reacted quickest to a rebound off the end boards, beating defenceman Alec Martinez and Hill.
The 23-year-old has four goals in the series and is suddenly up to 17 points in 17 playoff games.
A MEASURE OF REDEMPTION
Neutrals watching can’t help but feel good for Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger, who imploded at the start of Game 3 and was despondent after getting hooked by coach Pete DeBoer for the third time in eight games – a walk of shame he endured only once in 62 games during an excellent regular season.
“You pretty much feel like you want to cry,” Oettinger told reporters in Dallas on Wednesday. “You put your whole season into this and you want to play your best in these moments, and when you can’t do that for your team and for your fans, it’s one of the worst feelings in the world. It’s part of the position. When people say, you know, the ups and downs, this is the down. (But) I’m never going to give up, I’m never going to stop believing in myself.”
After getting ventilated for three goals on five shots on Tuesday, Oettinger stopped 37 of 39 in Game 4, winning what was a sparkling goaltending duel with Hill, who saved 39 of 42 Dallas shots.
FAST FREDDY OLOFSSON
A healthy-scratch for Dallas’ first 16 playoff games, Fredrik Olofsson had a lot of energy saved up when he finally got to play Thursday due to Benn’s suspension and an undisclosed injury to Stars winger Evgenii Dadonov.
The speedy winger registered five shots in 10:04 of fourth-line ice time and had a terrific chance to win it for Dallas with two minutes remaining in the third period when he got behind Vegas defencemen Alex Pietrangelo and Martinez, and patiently took the puck the all the way across the top of the crease before shooting. But Hill, whose goaltending has been a revelation since he entered the playoffs from the Knights’ bullpen, was equally patient and stayed with Olofsson to make a left-pad save.
JACK IS QUICK
The more you watch Jack Eichel, the more you realize the Golden Knights may actually have the superstar they hoped they were acquiring when general manager Kelly McCrimmon paid a fortune to the Buffalo Sabres to acquire a true No. 1 centre last season.
Eichel’s point-per-game scoring hasn’t been eye-popping in Vegas, but the powerful centre has become a more complete, two-way player for the Knights. And when he does have the puck, as he seemed to a lot in Game 4, change of pace allows Eichel to explode past defenders.
Eichel doesn’t play at warp speed like Connor McDavid, but he seems to be able to go from second gear to fifth in one stride. On one memorable shift Thursday, he torched Ryan Suter one-on-one and then, after a partial change on the fly by the Stars, Eichel similarly burned Thomas Harley.
Eichel had seven shots and made a pile of plays, but finished with just one assist.
The only thing we couldn’t figure out: how a player as good as Eichel, partnered with red-hot scorer Jonathan Marchessault (eight goals in eight games), could finish with just 16:57 of ice time when the Knights had a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.