Coach Peter DeBoer was speechless as he walked into the Vegas Golden Knights’ locker room Monday after Game 5 of the NHL’s Western Conference Finals.
“I was not preparing to say anything to them tonight because I just did not think we would lose,” he said.
Losing the Golden Knights did.
Dallas Stars forward Denis Gurianov’s goal of 3 minutes, 36 seconds of overtime gave his team a 3-2, come-behind victory and eliminated the Golden Knights from the mail season. Dallas advanced to the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 2000.
“We all feel this is a wasted opportunity,” said striker Reilly Smith, a Golden Knight from the team̵
Vegas entered the restarted NHL season with its eyes on the cup. The Golden Knights were first in the Pacific Division. They aggressively expanded their roster over the course of the season, firing coach Gerard Gallant after a 24-19-6 start, hiring DeBoer, the coach who defeated them in Game 7 of last season’s opening round, and traded for Los Angeles Kings defender Alec Martinez and Chicago Blackhawks goalkeeper Robin Lehner by the deadline.
The Knights eliminated Chicago in five games in the quarterfinals and then survived the Vancouver Canucks – and Thatcher Demko’s brilliant goalkeeper in the last three games of the series – with a victory in the 7th seven in the semifinals. They went into the Western Conference final against the Stars as odds-on favorites in the sports books to win the Stanley Cup.
What went wrong?
“They scored timely goals. It was a tight series. Our team probably surpassed them by 90 percent of that, but that was what cost us: We didn’t score, and they were,” Smith said. “The last eight games, it felt like we were cursed around the net. Nothing went in.”
Dallas outscored the Knights 9-8 in the series played in Edmonton, Alberta, as part of the league’s bubble amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“This game, much like the rest of the series, we could not get the next goal to expand [the lead], “Said DeBoer. In game 5, Knights center Chandler Stephenson scored 8:14 in the first period on an outburst for a 1-0 lead. Smith threw a shot high at Stars goalkeeper Anton Khudobin to give Vegas a 2- 0-lead 15 seconds into the third period.The Knights were 10-2 in the playoffs when they scored the first goal.Between the normal season and the playoffs, the Knights were 36-1-4 when leading after two periods.
But Dallas began to pick up the pace in the third period, and that effort manifested itself in Jamie Benn’s goal at. 9:54. Defender Esa Lindell passed the puck behind the net, and it rejected wing Alexander Radulov and straight to Benn, who snapped a wrist shot to cut the lead in half.
“There’s no panic in that locker room. We’re a resilient group,” Benn said. “We enjoy the challenge.”
The stars tied the fight with Vegas forward Alex Tuch in the penalty area to stumble. Defender John Klingberg got a shot through the traffic, Lehner made the save, and Joel Kiviranta – whose hat-trick in overtime won Game 7 against Colorado in the semifinals – hit the rebound home to tie the game at 16:13 in the third.
In overtime, the game revolved around a crucial and unfortunate mistake by rookie defender Zach Whitecloud, who tried to knock the puck away from a Dallas-forward racing and accidentally sent it over the glass for a delayed penalty of 2:15. Gurianov scored the league champion a moment later.
“I just feel terrible for the child,” DeBoer said. “It’s such a punishment to begin with. For that kind of punishment to decide that a game just does not make sense to me. But to him he has nothing to hang his head on. He played his ass off. He has a light future ahead of him here. “
In theory, so do the knights. This is their second trip to the conference finale in three years of existence. They lost to Washington in the Stanley Cup final in their opening season. In addition to a couple of unlimited free agents – including Lehner, though he is expected to return – the Golden Knights’ roster could be intact for another race next season.
“The goal of this team is to win the Stanley Cup and they are right in that window,” DeBoer said. “It’s the toughest trophy in hockey to win. It’s an incredibly tough road. We have to learn some things about what works in the playoffs and how to score in the playoffs.”
This is especially true for the team’s top offensive players. Dallas received production from stars such as Benn, Radulov and Joe Pavelski in the series. The same could not be said for the Knights’ top scorers.
DeBoer noticed a moment in the third period of Game 5 after Dallas cut the lead to 2-1 and Vegas forward and leading goal scorer Max Pacioretty – who had an assist in his last eight playoff games – could not convert an outburst opportunity.
It went beyond Pacioretty. Smith’s goal was his first in 11 games. Linemat Jonathan Marchessault was without a goal during this time. Mark Stone, who struggled with an injury in Game 5, had a goal in nine games.
“We could never get the next goal to get out in front enough,” DeBoer said. In the end, the lack of timely scoring cost the Golden Knights their main goal.
“We are not happy to lose in the conference final,” said DeBoer. “That was not the goal when we came here.”