Stars seek answers, down 2-0 again to Knights


DALLAS — For a second straight postseason, the Dallas Stars will be tasked with trying to climb out of a 2-0 first-round series hole against the Vegas Golden Knights.

A 3-1 loss Wednesday in a Western Conference quarterfinal game at the American Airlines Center left the Stars searching for answers against a team they’ve failed to beat in six straight games and in nine of their past 11 regular-season and playoff games.

“I think we had our chances, played good enough to win again,” Stars forward Tyler Seguin said. “We just didn’t do it.”

One of the challenges the Stars have faced in their recent encounters against the Golden Knights was falling behind early. It happened again in Game 1 on Monday when the Golden Knights scored the first two goals to set up what was an eventual 4-3 victory.

Game 2 saw the Stars score the first goal against the Golden Knights for the first time since Game 2 of the Western Conference finals last season.

Stars forward Jason Robertson scored a power-play goal with 3:13 left in the first period. But the lead lasted less than two minutes when reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Marchessault tied the score with 1:51 remaining.

From there, it was about what team could find a firm enough grasp to take control of a game that constantly felt out of reach.

Dallas felt that frustration in the second period when Wyatt Johnston won a puck battle that allowed him to play a quick pass to Logan Stankoven, who then delivered a back-door pass to Robertson, only to have Robertson’s shot gradually rise over a gaping net.

Vegas felt that same frustration as well. There was a 4-on-4 in the second period that saw Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo fire off three shots in eight seconds that were all stopped by a sprawling Jake Oettinger.

“I mean, that’s hockey. It goes both ways,” said Robertson, who finished with a goal and two shots while logging 20:22 in ice time. “They’ve had the same thing, but you just gotta stick with it and try and bear down and get that puck. There’s going to be plenty of opportunities throughout the game to bear down and get it. We gotta do more of that.”

The Golden Knights took control when Nicolas Roy created traffic at the net front. He threw a shot on net that was deflected but made its way to Noah Hanifin, with the defenseman launching a wrist shot that went over Oettinger’s glove for a 2-1 lead with 1:07 left in the second.

Even with a 58.5% shot share, the Stars mustered only five shots on net in the third period and two high-danger scoring chances. Stars coach Peter DeBoer pulled Oettinger with 1:51 remaining to get an extra-skater advantage.

It’s just that the Stars could never really get settled in the Golden Knights’ zone. That led to the Golden Knights clearing the puck before Eichel scored an empty-net goal with 33 seconds left that gave the Golden Knights a 3-1 lead and a 2-0 series advantage.

“I loved our first period, and we made one mistake at the end of the first. … You come out of the first with nothing to show for it,” DeBoer said. “I think that was probably a momentum swing. Then, we gotta find a way to score 5-on-5. We generated some chances. You’re not going to get a ton against them just like we’re not going to give up a bunch.”

Last season saw the Golden Knights take a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference finals before the Stars rallied to force Game 6. The Golden Knights closed out the series with an emphatic 6-0 win before advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they beat the Florida Panthers in five games.

Reaching the conference finals further cemented the argument that the Stars were in a championship window. They used the offseason to strengthen their roster by signing another top-nine forward in Matt Duchene while keeping much of their roster intact.

They used the trade deadline to add defenseman Chris Tanev, which bolstered a team that would go on to win 52 games and finish second behind the New York Rangers in the Presidents’ Trophy race with 113 points.

Winning the Central and having the best record in the Western Conference set the stage for the Stars to become the top seed in the West. But it also meant their championship aspirations would present another encounter with the Golden Knights.

After losing the first two games, DeBoer was asked if it felt like the Golden Knights have the Stars figured out.

“They’re the Stanley Cup champions. They’ve got everyone figured out,” DeBoer said. “They figured out everyone last year, too, right? We’re not alone in that boat.”

Although they lost in the conference finals, the Stars’ first two defeats of the series were decided in overtime. A year later, they find themselves in another 2-0 series deficit that’s once again been defined by the tightest of margins.

Is there anything DeBoer feels the Stars learned from last year’s conference finals that could possibly help this year?

“I thought last year, they probably carried the play even though we found a way to scratch out some wins,” DeBoer said. “I don’t think that’s the case this year. It doesn’t feel that way, anyway. It feels a lot more evenly matched.”

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