Stars, Golden Knights focused on quick start in Game 4 of Western Final

Stars, Golden Knights focused on quick start in Game 4 of Western Final

The team that has scored first in the Western Conference Final has won all three times: the Dallas Stars in Games 1 and 3, the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 2.

Coincidence or trend? 

“I don’t know if it’s a trend,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said Friday. “Honestly, I just wouldn’t read too much into it.”

The Golden Knights disagree. 

“We talked about that this morning in our meeting,” Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore said. “That’s going to be a focal point going forward.” 

Dallas leads the best-of-7 series with Game 4 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final, on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

The first goal does matter for these teams this postseason. The Golden Knights scored first in 11 of their 18 games and are 10-1-0 in those games. The Stars have scored first in nine of their 19 games and are 7-2-0 in those games.

The impact of scoring the first goal in a game may seem obvious, but Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said it makes a significant difference against Dallas, particularly as it relates to the way the Stars play.

“Through three games I think what we’ve learned is Dallas is a very good defensive team and plays well within their structure,” DeBoer said, “and it’s a lot easier for them to play within that when the game is tied or they have the lead. 

“For two of the three games that’s been the case. In Game 2 we got them in a hole and they have to come out of that structure and open it up to do that, and all of a sudden there’s a lot more room for us to make plays.” 

The Stars scored 2:36 into the first period of Game 1 and it wound up being the only goal in a 1-0 win. 

The Golden Knights scored three times in a span of 9:39 during the second period in Game 2, and that was all they needed for a 3-0 win.

“For me, that’s been a little bit of the story through three games,” DeBoer said. “How do we get them in a hole and put that pressure on them to get them out of their structure?”

Vegas did it in Game 2 by catching Dallas in a slow line change that resulted in a 4-on-3, leading to a goal by Paul Stastny for a 1-0 lead at 4:53 of the second period. A power-play goal by William Karlsson followed at 8:24 to make it 2-0.

The Stars, to DeBoer’s point, then began cheating for offense. The Golden Knights took advantage of an ill-timed pinch deep into the offensive zone by center Tyler Seguin and scored off a 3-on-1 to make it 3-0 at 14:32.

Game 3 was more of a seesaw on the scoreboard, but the first goal, by Dallas defenseman Jamie Oleksiak at 19:43 of the second period, forced Vegas into playing catchup. It tied the game twice in the third period but lost on Alexander Radulov‘s goal 31 seconds into overtime.

“I feel like when we do get the first [goal] we can take better control of the game and play more to our style,” Theodore said. “That’s going to be something we’re going to have to do.”

The Stars will have a better chance to start quickly in Game 4 if they limit their penalties. They’ve outscored the Golden Knights 4-3 at 5-on-5, but Vegas is up 2-0 on special teams with two power-play goals.

Vegas had 14 power-play opportunities in three games, including three in the third period of Game 3, with 61 seconds of a 5-on-3. Dallas had five power plays in three games.

“When you’re chasing the game you end up taking penalties, which we did in Game 2,” Bowness said. “And we took a couple of unfortunate ones last night. The puck over the glass [by defenseman John Klingberg], completely, completely unforced. The other one on [forward] Blake [Comeau], that’s a hooking penalty. …Those are self-inflicted. Some penalties are good penalties. … The ones we are taking are not and we’re just going to keep preaching discipline and staying out of the box. That’s a great power play over there.”

Despite scoring four goals in three games, Dallas can put Vegas on the brink of elimination with a win in Game 4.

The first goal might be the difference.

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