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Hockey

What We Saw, What It Felt Like: Stars-Golden Knights, Game 1

Deja vu all over again. Kind of.
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For the second year in a row, Dallas' playoff campaign began with a tough loss at home. Jerome Miron-USA Today Sports.

The playoffs are complicated. Each series is its own story, and each game is its own chapter encompassing a dozen moments and plot points. But the playoffs can also be simple. Each of those moments, those plot points, falls into one of two buckets: the things we observe and the emotions they inspire within us. That’s what we’re here to talk about.

What We Saw

Let’s be clear from the start: Dallas outplayed Vegas. 

Dallas outshot the Golden Knights, had better chances, and effectively controlled the flow of the game at even strength. While this wasn’t an overtime game like last year’s playoff opener against the Minnesota Wild, it’s hard to ignore the parallel of Dallas coming out of the gate as the better team playing at home, only to leave the American Airlines Center without a win. 

The difference this time around? Vegas got to the net on the power play twice, Tomas Hertl is a big man, and Logan Thompson played well enough behind the Vegas defensive core to make up for the howler of a goal he let up to Mason Marchment in the third period. 

The Mark Stone narrative, frustratingly, will be spoken about a ton over the next couple of days. While it is a story, it’s not the one the Stars or their fans should really focus on moving forward in the series. Like it or not, cap manipulation is part of the NHL, which means that dwelling too much on whether Stone could or could not have played before the postseason should be classified as outside noise.

What does matter is Vegas’ hockey on Monday wasn’t good hockey. It was survival, and while national broadcasters may have gushed about Vegas playing with a defending champion’s mettle, I’m sure Bruce Cassidy is thrilled to have won a game when his team generated only 15 shots on goal. 

Dallas had its flaws, starting with needing to better track the second puck down in the offensive zone. But the Stars also started exposing Vegas in the neutral zone and finding ways to create some stretch chances—two things the Golden Knights typically thrive against. 

It’ll be a competitive series, but nothing we saw on Monday should make anyone overly concerned that Dallas isn’t in this one. —Sean Shapiro

What It Felt Like

The Stars drew the toughest matchup possible. Not only did they get the defending 2023 Cup champions, but they got the Golden Knights at 100 percent thanks to the long-awaited return of their captain, Stone. To make matters worse, it was Stone who opened the scoring. Needless to say, if you’re a Stars fan, you probably felt anger (what the AAC crowd channeled most), frustration, or both. 

And then came the disarray. Monday night was a jumbled affair that brought more questions than answers. What happened to the Jake Oettinger who closed out the season? Where was the penalty kill that was otherwise so stout throughout the year? Why does it feel like we’re still waiting for offensive dominance from that top line? These are broad questions, ones that a single game can’t answer, but facing this many completely new questions so late in the year feels odd.

If you want to feel reassurance, though, it was definitely there. On Vegas’ end, Thompson didn’t have the presence of a playoff starter, something that would have felt more pronounced had Dallas actually challenged him more. On the Stars’ end, Wyatt Johnston and Logan Stankoven looked like two players who wanted the Cup even more than the veterans. Heck, it might even be time to give them the top line’s minutes. (Johnston actually led all forwards in ice time with 18 minutes.)  

Still, it’ll be hard for most fans not to feel discouraged. Discouraged by knowing that the defending Stanley Cup champs looked exactly like Cup champs. Discouraged by seeing their trade deadline acquisitions pay off. Perhaps most of all, discouraged by Game 1 feeling a lot like last year’s playoffs. Vegas didn’t necessarily look like the better team, but they won in the critical moments that determined their fortune. 

Being discouraged is not being defeated, however. That would be true for any team. But it’s doubly true for the Western Conference’s best team. —David Castillo

Authors

Sean Shapiro

Sean Shapiro

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Sean Shapiro covers the Stars for StrongSide. He is a national NHL reporter and writer who previously covered the Dallas…
David Castillo

David Castillo

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David Castillo covers the Stars for StrongSide. He has written for SB Nation and Wrong Side of the Red Line,…
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