The Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights have little time to enjoy their dramatic Game 7 victories Friday.
The two teams face a quick turnaround and begin their best-of-seven Western Conference finals on Sunday night in Edmonton, with the winner earning a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.
Third-seeded Dallas, eliminated in a 2-1 double overtime loss in Game 7 in the second round to eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis last season, advanced to the conference final for the first time since 2008 with a 5-4 overtime victory over No. 2 seeded Colorado on Friday. A few hours later, Vegas avoided blowing a 3-1 series lead for the second straight postseason when it defeated Vancouver 3-0.
Joel Kiviranta, in because regular forward Andrew Cogliano was deemed unfit to play, scored the game-winner at 7:24 of overtime for the Stars to become just the seventh player in NHL history and the first rookie ever to score a hat trick in a Game 7.
“This is the moment you dream about when you are a young kid,” said Kiviranta, the 24-year-old Finnish forward who had one goal in 11 regular season games. “Today was the day I played the first Game 7 in my life, and I didn’t know what to expect.”
When he arrived back to a cheering locker room after doing a TV interview, Kiviranta then delivered an assist to the Stars’ marketing department with this comment to loud cheers from the squad: “We’re not going home!”
“Obviously we were in the same situation last year and came out on the wrong end of it,” Dallas captain Jamie Benn said. “And this year it’s nice to get that win and move on.”
Kiviranta didn’t play in any of the three previous meetings between the two teams this season. Dallas took the first one at home on Nov. 25, 4-2, while Vegas won the second one on a Max Pacioretty overtime goal, 3-2, on Dec. 13 in Las Vegas. The Golden Knights also rallied from a 3-1 third period deficit with three goals in the span of 5:02 to pull out a 5-3 victory in the opening game of the Qualifying Round on Aug. 3 in Edmonton.
Shea Theodore’s power-play goal from the left point past a double screen by William Karlsson and Mark Stone with 6:08 left in the third period snapped a 0-0 tie and also an amazing 98-save streak by Vancouver backup goalie Thatcher Demko to give Vegas the Game 7 win in the second round. The Golden Knights sealed it with a pair of empty-net goals.
“I thought it was way more than 98 to be honest,” said Theodore. “I thought it was a couple hundred. He’s a great goalie.”
Robin Lehner finished with just 16 saves for his record-tying third shutout of the series but one of them was a diving, highlight-reel glove save on Brock Boeser midway through the second period that may have been the biggest stop of the tournament so far.
“I know you say I can’t save backdoor shots, but the big man can move when he wants to,” Lehner, nicknamed the Panda, said.
This is the second time in their three seasons that the No. 1 seeded Golden Knights have advanced to the Western Conference final. They knocked off the Winnipeg Jets in five games in their inaugural season in 2018 before losing to the Washington Capitals in five games in the Stanley Cup Final.
Vegas could be without fourth line forward and team enforcer Ryan Reaves for the start of the series. Reaves has a Saturday appointment with NHL Department of Safety after garnering a match penalty for his head shot on Tyler Motte in the second period. He was ejected from the Game 7 win for the hit.
–Field Level Media