Anton Khudobin kept reading the play, kept coming out of the blue paint to challenge, kept making saves, kept building the Dallas Stars’ confidence as they protected a one-goal lead late in the third period.
“He’s competitive out there,” Stars forward Joe Pavelski said. “It bleeds into our team.”
The Stars killed a 70-second 5-on-3. Then Esa Lindell blocked a shot. Then Pavelski did. Then Tyler Seguin dove to block one. Then Jamie Benn had the puck and smartly banked it off the wall, three-quarters of the way down the ice, killing more precious seconds.
The Vegas Golden Knights did not get a shot on goal in the final 3:52. This was a clinic in how to battle through adversity and sneak out a win in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Saturday.
Stars 2, Golden Knights 1.
“When the game is on the line, and it’s a 2-1 game and you’re late, you’re going to do whatever it takes to get that win,” Dallas coach Rick Bowness said. “Our guys did that. They gutted it out. They blocked shots. They paid the price. And we got the win.”
The Stars need one more to get to the Stanley Cup Final. They have the Golden Knights on the brink in the best-of-7 series despite scoring six goals and getting outshot 130-92.
“We’re one step closer, but nothing has been accomplished yet,” Pavelski said. “We’ll stay focused and try to play our best game of the series.”
To understand why the Stars are where they are heading into Game 5 in Edmonton, the hub city for the conference finals, on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS), look no further than the final 6:44 of Game 4.
They faced adversity in the form of tripping penalties to Pavelski and Jason Dickinson 50 seconds apart, giving the Golden Knights a 5-on-3 for 1:10.
The Stars have been shorthanded 19 times in the series, way too many for their liking.
“Doesn’t matter how you get there or what you think about it, it’s a moment in the game that was huge for our killers to get the job done,” Pavelski said.
The Golden Knights had looks at the net, as they have all series both at even strength and on the power play, but they were from the perimeter, where the Stars have been making them live.
“You’re going to give something up,” Bowness said. “We’ll give up the outside shots.”
Pavelski said the Stars got momentum and energy off that kill. It furthered their commitment to block shots to help out Khudobin, who made 32 saves.
“Doing the right thing,” Pavelski said.
Bowness said the coaches had to keep the players calm on the bench because they were getting wound up watching each other block shots and sacrifice the body.
“But when they went on the ice they were clearly doing whatever it took to win the game,” Bowness said. “You’ve got to make sure guys are ready to go next shift, and they were.”
The Stars haven’t played pretty hockey in this series, but they’ve grinded like they did in the final 6:44, like their goalie has all series.
Khudobin has allowed six goals on 125 shots for a .952 save percentage.
“Spectacular performances,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said. “He’s a competitor. He comes to play every night. Once again, kept us in that game tonight for sure.”
Khudobin allowed one goal on 22 shots before Pavelski scored on the Stars’ seventh shot of the game at 11:34 of the second period to tie it 1-1.
“Our emotion was a little low,” Dallas forward Corey Perry said. “That’s what Joe does, he comes up big in big moments. We got a bounce and it kind of put some life into us. We started to play on our toes a little more, play offense a little more and that got us going.”
Benn scored the Stars’ first power-play goal of the series with 59 seconds left in the period for the 2-1 lead. It was their 14th shot on goal.
They made sure by how they played in the third period they didn’t need any more.
“That’s awesome, that’s always awesome, and I’m always going to keep saying that,” Khudobin said. “The way the guys are battling, the way they’re blocking the shots. They have bruises and they have bumps and they still sacrifice their bodies and go and block shots. Even if they can’t, they’re still trying. They’re working their [tails] off to make sure that I see the puck, or if I don’t, they block it. Stay alive and don’t get scored on.
“Unbelievable team effort. Huge, huge, huge.”