Unsung heroes lead Dallas to 4-1 victory over Tampa Bay
EDMONTON — Sure, the Stanley Cup can be about your big stars shining bright. But the annals of hockey history are filled with examples of unsung heroes who seemingly came out of nowhere to steal the spotlight on the biggest stage.
Step right up, Joel Hanley, Jamie Oleksiak and Joel Kiviranta.
They may not exactly be household names to the average fan, but the trio of Dallas Stars skaters made a great introduction on Saturday night in a 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning to draw first blood in the best-of-seven championship series.
“It’s really important when everybody’s producing,” said goaltender Anton Khudobin, who deserves a tip of the cap as well. The career backup has been thrust into a starting role with an injury to No. 1 netminder Ben Bishop and has been sensational. His latest effort involved making 35 saves, including a whopping 22 in the third period.
Game 2 is set for Monday night.
“That’s what you need to win in the playoffs. You rely on your top-end guys to get you some offence and get you some chances, and then you rely on some other guys to step up every now and then and score some huge goals,” said Dallas coach Rick Bowness, the former Winnipeg Jets player turned coach.
As the most surreal championship final in NHL history got underway inside the COVID-19 “bubble” here in Edmonton at Rogers Place, neither team had to look far for a reminder of what they were playing for — the Stanley Cup was perched on a platform built above their respective benches. The trophy was removed shortly after puck drop, perhaps to avoid any accidental dings and dents caused by flying pucks shot out of play.
There was lots of early jump and aggression between a pair of clubs who have never met before in the post-season, and last faced-off in regular-season action way back in late January.
Dallas’ plan was to try and wear down Tampa, which came into the game with several players nursing injuries and having just played on Thursday night, where they finished off the Eastern Conference Final by downing the New York Islanders in overtime of their sixth game. The Stars had been waiting to return to the ice since disposing of the Vegas Golden Knights last Monday, and clearly had energy to burn.
“They were right on top of us. They were on top of us right from the get-go,” said Tampa forward Yanni Gourde.
Hanley opened the scoring just 5:40 into the game, picking one heck of a moment to notch his first-ever NHL tally. The 29-year-old undrafted depth defenceman from Ontario, only in the lineup because of an injury to regular Stephen Johns, ripped a beautiful shot from the slot to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy. He began the night with 46 goal-less regular-season games and seven playoff games on his resumé.
“Obviously it’s something you dream about when you’re young. Just cool to be able to contribute with a goal like that,” said Hanley. “I just tried to pick a corner and shoot as hard as I could, and it was lucky enough to go in.”
Tampa tied it later in the period on a fluke play. Blake Coleman’s shot missed the net, bounced off the end boards and then Gourde’s skate past Khudobin. However, that was as much offence as the normally high-flying Lightning could muster.
After Coleman took back-to-back penalties early in the second period, Dallas began tilting the ice and took control. Although they didn’t score on either power play, Oleksiak made it 2-1 just past the midway mark when he jumped on his own rebound and buried it for what proved to be the game-winner.
Oleksiak, the older brother of Canadian Olympic swimming star Penny Oleksiak, has turned into a sniper these playoffs, now with five goals in 22 games. To put that in perspective, he had four goals in his previous 124 contests.
“I think in these playoffs, we’ve been getting the D involved a little bit more and the opportunities have come my way. I think it’s just a product of good team play and our system. It’s definitely nice to contribute in that way,” said Oleksiak of his surprising offensive surge. He’ll remember the game for another reason, as he got elbowed in the face while throwing a hit and lost a tooth.
The Dallas dagger came with 27 seconds left in the middle frame. After Tampa had hit the post at one end, Kiviranta blasted a shot past Vasilevskiy to give his club a 3-1 lead. Jason Dickinson sealed the victory with an empty-net goal with just over a minute to play.
“Any win is a good win, so we’ll take that for sure,” said Bowness.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.