For me, there a key theme and two key individual stories for the Dallas Stars. The key theme can be best expressed as “Who saw these guys coming? In this post, I’ll share some of the surprises that have led the Stars to a 1-0 Stanley Cup series lead.
The two individual stories, who have also been part of those surprises, are about a decade apart in age. One is the aging 34-year-old goalie Anton Khudobin, and the other is the young Finn 24-year-old Joel Kiviranta.
Nobody saw these guys coming – all led by an interim coach (Rick Bowness) who might not stay interim for long.
Item One: Could the Surprising Khudobin Actually Be Getting Stronger?
Let’s start with Khudobin. As he’s done for the last few weeks, Khudobin started a playoff game for the Stars. This time it was Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final for the Stars. Against him – standing down at the other end of the ice – was the better-known and more highly-rated Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. Everyone expected Vasilevskiy to be there, not so much with Khudobin.
However, Khudobin’s been the Cinderella story of the playoffs thus far. When starter Ben Bishop was injured Ben Bishop Khudobin took his place and he’s guided his team into the Stanley Cup Final. He entered Saturday’s Game 1 with a record of 12-6, a goals-against-average of 2.62, and a save percentage of .920.
Game 1 was more of the same. Khudobin faced 36 shots, only allowing a single goal. The Stars won 4-1 over the Lightning. It wasn’t for lack of Tampa Bay trying, but it was for lack of them succeeding. The Lightning beat the Stars 36-20 in the shot department, but Khudobin beat Vasilevskiy in the save department.
Khudobin was the difference and the game’s first star. And, save after save after safe he proved it. Give the Lightning credit for trying; during the third period alone the fired stopped 22 shots on net – none went in. The only goal that crossed the line was a deflection off a bounce that eventually counted as Yanni Gourde’s goal on the score sheet.
There’s no other way to say it: Khudobin was incredible. His impact on the team is palpable. It seems the Stars are beginning to believe they can actually beat this great Lightning team. With one win down, there’s only three more to go.
Game 2 is scheduled for Monday night and the Stars have super-hot goalie who’s simply getting better. Khudobin pushed his mark to 13-6, with a goals-against-average of 2.54 and a save percentage .923. Who saw this coming?
Item Two: Anyone Ever Hear of Joel Kiviranta Before Two Weeks Ago?
Before his heroics during Game 7’s Western Conference Semi-Finals, when he scored a hat trick to help the Stars beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-4, few hockey fans anywhere would have heard of Joel Kiviranta. Maybe in Finland, but nowhere else.
Kiviranta was an undrafted 24-year-old who, until the 2019-20 season, had played in his home country but never in North America. He only skated in Game 7 game because journeyman Andrew Cogliano wasn’t able to play. Now Cogliano’s back in the line-up, and Kiviranta never left.
Good thing. During Game 1, Kiviranta scored a goal to give the Stars a 3-1 lead with under a minute left in the second period. As I noted earlier in this post, the 24-year-old Finn has been one more Stars’ surprise as the team makes its run toward the Stanley Cup.
Kiviranta now has goals in two straight games and he now has five goals and an assist in nine postseason games. Who saw this coming?
Item Three: Other Stars Scorers: Dickinson, Oleksiak & Hanley
Jason Dickinson scored an empty-netter late in the third period to push the Stars’ lead to 4-1. It was the 25-year-old Dickinson’s first goal of the playoffs and he now has scored three points in 22 postseason games. Another Stars’ surprise.
Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak scored the team’s second goal of the game, which turned into the game-winner. His goal gave the Stars a 2-1 lead halfway through the second period. The 27-year-old Toronto-native had a really strong postseason with five goals and three assists in 22 games during the playoffs. During 69 regular-season games, he only had three goals and seven assists. Did anyone see this coming?
Finally, Joel Hanley’s goal gave his team a 1-0 lead less than six minutes after the first-period’s opening faceoff. It was his first NHL goal – ever. And, it was as good a place to start as he could have imagined – first goal, first period, first game, first Stanley Cup playoffs.
Similar to Kiviranta, the Stars well-traveled defenseman got into the line-up during Game 7 of the team’s series victory against the Avalanche, and he hasn’t left. The 29-year-old Hanley now has scored two points in seven games this postseason. Who saw this coming?
What’s Next for the Stars?
Game 2 of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final will be played on Monday night. The Stars aren’t expected to make any line-up changes. Why would they?
/ 5 hours ago
Now 37, Ilya Kovalchuk’s employment in the NHL is certainly not a given next...
/ 6 hours ago
Joshua Ho-Sang and the Islanders agreed on a one-year contract earlier today.
/ 9 hours ago
The Boston Bruins might be reevaluating the idea of trading Jake DeBrusk. That said,...
/ 10 hours ago
The Colorado Avalanche have signed Devon Toews to a four-year contract worth $4.1 million...
/ 1 day ago
Reports are surfacing on social media Monday evening that Edmonton hockey icon Joey Moss...
/ 2 days ago
As per Arizona Coyotes’ writer Craig Morgan, Martin Hanzal is making his retirement from...
/ 2 days ago
According to a report, the Ottawa Senators might not have access to Tim Stutzle...
/ 2 days ago
Looking more closely at Andreas Athanasiou's situation in NHL free agency, one wonders if...