Published Sunday, May 21, 2023 | 3:06 p.m.
Updated 50 minutes ago
The redemption arc for Chandler Stephenson was a roller coaster on Sunday.
He took two uncharacteristic penalties. One of the best faceoff winners in the league, he had his worst performance all season. He had one shot on goal on a night where the Golden Knights struggled to find offense.
But that one shot is why the Golden Knights are two wins away from making the Stanley Cup Final.
Stephenson scored 1:12 into overtime for the first Stanley Cup Playoff winner of his career, and the Golden Knights rallied to defeat the Dallas Stars 3-2 in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final at T-Mobile Arena, giving Vegas a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“Any time you’re watching the playoffs growing up, getting a game-winner, it’s pretty special,” Stephenson said. “It hasn’t really hit me yet that it’s happened, but it’s cool.”
For the second straight game, the Golden Knights went to overtime, ended it in less than two minutes, and Stephenson’s line was on the ice for the winner both times. Brett Howden scored 1:35 into the extra session on Friday to win Game 1 at home.
It was a different finish than Howden’s goal, but the mentality was the same with Stephenson. Shea Theodore’s shot from above the right circle was kicked away by Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger, but Stephenson was alone on the weak side to score his first goal since Game 3 of the second-round series against Edmonton.
Mark Stone scored a power-play goal, and Jonathan Marchessault scored the game-tying goal with 2:22 remaining in regulation to give the Golden Knights a chance in the extra frame. Adin Hill won his fourth straight start with 26 saves.
The series now shifts to Dallas with Game 3 on Tuesday (5 p.m., ESPN), and the Golden Knights are 4-1 on the road this postseason.
“They’re tight games and we know what type of team Dallas is,” Marchessault said. “We’re a veteran group. We know how to handle those situations.”
Singling out Stephenson doesn’t seem right in a game where the Golden Knights couldn’t generate anything offensively. They had 10 shots on goal through two periods as Dallas adjusted defensively by shutting down any entries toward the offensive blue line.
But the first-time All-Star, who now has 13 points through the Golden Knights’ 13 playoff games, struggled by his standards. Stephenson was one of the best in the league at faceoffs this season, winning 58.3% of draws taken, and went 2 of 15 on Sunday.
His line — with Mark Stone and Brett Howden — combined for four shots on goal at 5-on-5.
Stephenson took two uncharacteristic penalties; a slashing call on Dallas’ Roope Hintz in the first period that didn’t need to happen, and then a cross-checking call in retaliation to defenseman Colin Miller tangling with him near the Vegas bench.
“There’s obviously emotion,” Stephenson said. “The more it goes on, the more emotion there is. I need to keep my emotions in check. You never want to give a good power play two opportunities.”
For a team that’s gone 10-3 in the playoffs, the Golden Knights do better when they’re trailing early. They gave up the opening goal for the 10th time in13 games. Dallas defenseman Miro Heiskanen opened the scoring at 2:47 for a 1-0 lead.
Stone capitalized on a 5-on-3 following subsequent penalties from the Stars’ third defense pairing of Thomas Harley and Joel Hanley. Stone received a pass in front from Stephenson and beat Oettinger to tie it 1-1.
The Golden Knights’ penalty-killing unit looked strong through its first three tests against the Dallas power play. Outside of Dallas’ first power play in Game 1, the Vegas PK handled the Pete DeBoer-coached man advantage, having played in that system for three years when DeBoer was Vegas’ coach.
Marchessault was called for tripping in the offensive zone in the second period, which led to Dallas’ Jason Robertson scoring for the second straight game and a 2-1 lead at 9:21 of the period.
Following 50 minutes of the Stars playing near-shutdown defense, the Golden Knights started to find a rhythm offensively, led by center Jack Eichel. His pace in the final half of the third period started opening the ice for his linemates.
That came to fruition on Marchessault’s game-tying goal. It started with Eichel sending the puck behind the Dallas net. Eichel received a pass from Ivan Barbashev, then did a no-look drop pass to Marchessault cutting in the slot to tie it 2-2.
It woke up the Golden Knights’ forecheck, and that play carried over to overtime where Stephenson’s goal sent the crowd of 18,358 into a frenzy.
“It wasn’t our best game,” Stephenson said. “Once Marchy scored, it brought a lot of life into us.”
In a postseason run where no win has been considered “ugly,” this was the ugliest of them all. Despite it being a far cry from the dominant offensive game they played in Game 1, the Golden Knights’ resiliency showed yet again with their eighth come-from-behind win.
As for the game puck for Stephenson’s game-winner, his son Ford turns 1 year old on Monday. The puck is going in his room.
Stephenson started slow, but finished strong in an emphatic way. And his goal is why the Golden Knights are in the driver’s seat.
“He’s been awesome all postseason long,” Eichel said. “He’s one of the more underrated players in our league. I don’t think he’s talked about enough, but he does it for us every night and I think everyone in this room looks at him as one of the better players in the world.”