LM Otero / AP
Published Tuesday, May 23, 2023 | 7:46 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, May 24, 2023 | 10:16 p.m.
DALLAS — Among the things Adin Hill stopped Tuesday night: 34 pucks and a bag of popcorn.
Nothing is fazing Hill. Whether it be pucks or buttery goodness, he remains on a level worthy of leading the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final.
He’s one win away from that.
Hill made 34 saves and recorded the first playoff shutout of his career, and the Golden Knights defeated the Dallas Stars 4-0 in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“It speaks volumes to our team, too,” Hill said. “We haven’t lost many games in these playoffs. We’re on a roll and we’re playing well defensively.”
And a weird series it has become in the span of four days. A battle between two of the West’s top teams started with consecutive overtime wins, won by the Golden Knights, suggesting that this could be a tight series.
But it took 7:10 for Game 3 to flip on its head with the Golden Knights jumping out to a 3-0 lead with goals from Jonathan Marchessault, Ivan Barbashev and William Carrier. Falling behind was the least of Dallas’ worries, though.
Stars captain Jamie Benn was called for a major penalty and given a game misconduct less than two minutes in after cross-checking Vegas captain Mark Stone while laying on the ice. Benn, normally a well-respected player, lost the cool for his group before the game was still in its infancy.
Benn did not speak to the media after the game.
“He made a mistake. He feels really bad about it. I’m not going to pile on him,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “He leads by example every day on and off the ice. Fortunately, Mark Stone is OK, and we’ve got to live with the consequences.”
That set the tone for a frustrating night for the Stars, capped off by 5-foot-9 forward Max Domi getting called for minor penalties of cross-checking and roughing, and given a 10-minute misconduct for taking a charge at 6-foot-6 Golden Knights defenseman Nic Hague. The fans inside American Airlines Center responded to the call by throwing trash onto the ice with 21.6 seconds remaining in the second period.
The situation was so tense, and the ice littered beyond casual clean-up duty, that the period ended early and the 21.6 seconds would be resumed following the second intermission.
As Hill and the Golden Knights came back onto the ice, a bag of popcorn bounced off the goalie’s mask.
“I guess everything was just hitting me tonight,” Hill said with a laugh.
Right now, there’s one team laughing. The other is in danger.
The Golden Knights are one win away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in franchise history. It’s a playoff run in which the Golden Knights have won 11 of 14 games, with a 5-1 road record while outscoring opponents 23-13 away from T-Mobile Arena, and pristine goaltending during a five-game winning streak.
Vegas has frustrated teams at every turn and has done so in all facets. The Golden Knights are scoring 3.71 goals per game and giving up just 2.71. They’ve allowed 10 total goals during this five-game winning streak, a combination of strong team defense and Hill’s effort since coming in for Laurent Brossoit in Game 3 in Edmonton.
Hill is now 6-1 in eight appearances. His .940 save percentage and 1.96 goals allowed are Conn Smythe-worthy. Only Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky — whom the Golden Knights could play for the Cup in a week’s time if things continue the way they’ve gone so far — is on a level of equal brilliance.
“I do know what we’re doing is we’re making it hard for them to get inside and get good chances,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Our style of play is to protect the middle of the ice. We’re not always on top of our game, but how we want to play, the players are receptive to that and they have been.”
Not a single person would’ve blamed Vegas for retaliating after what Benn did to Stone.
Then again, that’s what the Stars would’ve wanted. A desperate team trailing by two games would want to steal momentum in any way. But when Benn cross-checked Stone, the Dallas captain was the lone one to enter the box.
That came 42 seconds after Marchessault opened the scoring to give the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead. As Benn’s penalty neared its end, Barbashev scored at 5:57 for a 2-0 lead. Carrier added his 1:13 later to chase Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger out of the game.
The Golden Knights didn’t respond with physical retaliation. They let their play dictate the night.
“You keep your composure,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “You’ve got a five-minute power play. We know we wanted to get at least one, and we did.”
Pietrangelo’s goal at 8:28 of the second period capped off an offensive night that saw four goals on 16 shots.
The Stars tried, with as limited resources at their disposal, to make a game out of it. With Benn already out, the Stars then lost forward Evgenii Dadonov to injury in the first period and played the remainder of the game with 10 forwards.
Dallas might have to go into an elimination game without its captain — pending on a potential ruling on Benn from the Department of Player Safety — and Dadonov.
Meanwhile, no team has ever blown a 3-0 lead in the round before the Stanley Cup Final (46-0). The Clarence S. Campbell Bowl will be in the building Thursday. The Golden Knights are one win away from putting an emphatic stamp on an impressive run through the Western Conference playoffs.
None of that matters until they get the fourth win. That first chance comes in less than 48 hours.