For the first time since 2000, the Dallas Stars are heading to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Stars punched their ticket to the Final on Monday with a 3-2 overtime win in Game 5 of their Western Conference Final series with the Vegas Golden Knights in the Edmonton bubble.
After trailing 2-0 early in the third period, the Stars fought their way back with two goals to tie the game at 2-2. Captain Jamie Benn got Dallas on the board just about halfway through the third period, while Joel Kiviranta tied the game at 2-2 with a power play goal with 3:47 in regulation. Kiviranta was the hero of Game 7 for the Stars in their second round matchup with the Colorado Avalanche with a hat-trick to send Dallas to the Western Conference Final.
Then the Golden Knights found themselves in more penalty trouble as defenseman Zach Whitecloud was penalized for delay of game after putting the puck over the glass just 2:15 into the first overtime.
It only took 1:21 for the Stars to convert as rookie forward Denis Gurianov was able to tee-up a one-time shot that beat Vegas goalie Robin Lehner on the glove side to end the series.
For Gurianov, the goal was his ninth of the playoffs to tie him with Joe Pavelski for the team lead in that category. His 17th point of the postseason was also good to put him in third place for team scoring behind Benn (18) and young stud defenseman Miro Heiskanen (22).
In goal, Anton Khudobin continues to play extremely well for the Stars with 34 saves on 36 shots faced to push the Stars to the Final. Overall in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Khudobin has been a brick wall for Dallas with a 12-6 record in 19 games played with a 2.62 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and one shutout in Game 1 of the series with Vegas.
Coming into the playoffs, Khudobin spent the year for the Stars playing primarily as the backup to regular starting netminder Ben Bishop. However, Bishop was unfit to play at the start of the playoffs, leaving Khudobin to start in his place, The 34-year-old played so well in Bishop's place, that he has become the full-time starter this postseason after a couple of shaky performances from Bishop in three games started.
The Stars advance to the Stanley Cup Final after finishing the regular season with a 37-24-8 record in 69 games before the 2019-20 season was shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They made a coaching change 32 games into the season when they dismissed head coach Jim Montgomery, in part, due to concerns with drinking problems and replaced him with long-time NHL head coach Rick Bowness.
Throughout the season, a lot of the team's success came in net and on defense rather than on offense. The Stars finished as the third-lowest scoring team in the league this season, only ahead of the Detroit Red Wings and the Los Angeles Kings. However, Dallas had the second-best goaltending tandem in the league in goals-against average (2.52) and goals allowed (174).
Although the Stars did not have a great seeding round-robin tournament in the Western Conference, they ended up finishing as the third-ranked team behind just the Avalanche and Golden Knights. In the first round of the playoffs, they had a rollercoaster series with the Calgary Flames, but ended up moving on in six games.
In Round 2 against the Avalanche, the goal scoring finally came and every game in the series saw the winning team score at least four goals in the game. Despite jumping out to a 3-1 series lead, Dallas found themselves going to a Game 7 after Colorado fought their way back with wins in Games 5 and 6 of the series. However, the Stars came through in Game 7 with a 5-4 overtime win thanks to the heroics of Kiviranta.
After splitting the first two games of the Western Conference Final with the Golden Knights, Dallas was then able to take the next three games straight and down Vegas to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Stars will await the winner of the Eastern Conference Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders in the Edmonton bubble. That series is swinging in favor of the Lightning, who hold the advantage, 3-1 in games.
With a Lightning win on Tuesday night, the 2020 Stanley Cup Final is likely to begin on Thursday night with Game 1 set to get underway at Rogers Place. If the Islanders win, Game 6 of the series will take place Thursday night at 8 p.m.