Monday, May 20, 2024 May 20, 2024
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What We Saw, What It Felt Like: Stars-Golden Knights, Game 4

The series is back on.
Jake Oettinger slammed the door and tied the series. Stephen R. Sylvanie-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

Logan Stankoven got wrecked on the first shift of the game. Brayden McNabb leveled the Stars’ rookie forward, the 6-foot-4, 212-pound behemoth crushing a player 6 inches shorter and many pounds lighter. Less than three seconds later, Jamie Benn delivered clean retribution, toppling the Vegas defender. 

Consider that a microcosm of what happened the rest of the night. 

With the series effectively on the line, the Stars came out as aggressors. The Golden Knights’ veteran defensive core, littered with Stanley Cup rings, was run ragged by the Stars’ youngest forwards. The fourth line pulled one over on Jack Eichel on a vital shift. Wyatt Johnston was electric once again, while Logan Thompson’s Game 3 aura was shattered when Evegenii Dadonov doinked one off his head and into the net. 

And that was great for the first 40 minutes. 

In the third period, Dallas dialed it back to Rick Bowness-era hockey. The Stars built a bunker, dropping back into the defensive zone and effectively conceding they would either win this game 3-2, or they would lose. 

It worked. Jake Oettinger was good enough early and great in the third. His defense chipped and only slightly chased enough to kill the clock and the energy in Vegas. 

It was ugly. But an ugly finish to a victory is still a victory. It’s a best of three now, and Dallas—and Benn—get a chance to exorcise last year’s demons with home-ice advantage on their side. —Sean Shapiro

What It Felt Like

The Stars were never out of the first two games, but they didn’t control them, either. In response to that, the new-look top six—and mostly Johnston—made a meal out of the Golden Knights. If Game 3 was Dallas making a statement, Game 4 was Dallas putting Vegas on the clock with consecutive wins.

Monday night wasn’t the outright dominance we saw in the previous matchup, but it was something potentially more reassuring. The Stars played with a poise that felt eerily similar to what Vegas showed in Game 2, when the Golden Knights were undeterred in the face of Dallas’ bruising physicality. Vegas, meanwhile, acted like those Stars from two games ago, seemingly intent on making the game a street fight, with the highlight being McNabb’s hit on Stankoven. Stankoven, like the rest of the Stars, got right back up and got back to business. And then captain Jamie Benn, like the rest of his teammates, got even with a hit of his own on McNabb.

This series feels like it’s been going on for far longer than just four games. If you expected clarity on what emotion to cycle through next, this game didn’t give you that. There’s a negative way to spin this and a positive one, too. The negative spin is home teams have been dreadful in this series, so another close game theoretically favors the Knights on Wednesday.

The positive spin is this: Vegas is really, really good. For the Stars, this was never going to be easy. The injuries made the Golden Knights look human during the regular season, and that’s the only reason these teams happen to be playing each other in the first round. Now Vegas is not only healthy but fortified by trade-deadline acquisitions that make this group even better than last year’s Cup winner.  And guess what? The Stars still won.

So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s not just the usual playoff jitters you’re feeling or the reassurance of being tied in a razor-thin series. Maybe it’s belief. Because after these last two games, it’s hard not to have at least some of that once again. —David Castillo


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,…