Golden Knights have limited Stars' scoring chances to take 2-0 series lead

LAS VEGAS — The problems for Dallas are two-fold — the Stars aren’t getting great scoring chances and for long stretches aren’t even putting the puck on net.

That’s primarily why the Golden Knights are back in Las Vegas with a 2-0 lead in the first-round NHL playoffs series. Game 3 is Saturday night (10:30 p.m. EDT, TBS).

In Game 1, a 4-3 Dallas loss, the Stars didn’t get a shot on goal in the second period until 8:52 into it. Vegas closed out the 3-1 victory in Game 2 by holding Dallas without a shot on goal over the final 5:38.

“It’s tight through the neutral zone,” Stars forward Jason Robertson said. “We’ve got to pick our spots, whether to skate (the puck) or put it in a spot where we can get it back.”

That kind of defense was a major reason why the Knights won the Stanley Cup last year, but there were lapses this season as Vegas battled injuries and illness on the blue line. The Knights began to find themselves defensively about a month ago.

“That certainly has to be a calling card for our hockey club if you want to be successful, a clear understanding of how we have to play,” Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said. “So we talk about it. I think our guys bought into it. They saw it work last year.”

For Vegas, the defense goes beyond forcing opponents into dry shooting spells. Since Cassidy became the Knights coach two years ago, he has installed a defensive system that pushes shots to the sides and keeps scorers out of the slot.

Dallas actually outshot the Knights 29-15 in the series opener, but Vegas controlled most of the game and led throughout.

“We’ve been doing a good job of eliminating time and space,” Knights defenseman Alec Martinez said. “I think the forwards have done a really good job of applying that back pressure, and their back checking allows us to feel comfortable to stay up.

“When you have pressure from behind and ahead of you, it tends to squeeze players out of the neutral zone and forces them to make decisions either they don’t want to make or make the decision a little bit earlier than they want.”

PANTHERS at LIGHTNING, Panthers lead 3-0, 5 p.m. EDT (TBS)

Tampa Bay has dropped the first three games of a series for the first time since being swept in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019.

The Lightning have lost six straight postseason games at home, dating to a 6-2 victory over Colorado in Game 3 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final.

Tampa Bay has never rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. Overall, teams losing the first three games have a series record of 4-202.

An empty-net goal was the difference in the series opener, Carter Verhaeghe’s overtime winner decided Game 2, and Florida scored late to seal a 5-3 win in Game 3.

“That’s a very, very good hockey team over there that plays a style that you need to play to win at this time of the year,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “But we still believe that we can go out and win the next game.”

BRUINS at MAPLE LEAFS, Boston leads 2-1, 8 p.m. EDT (TBS)

The Maple Leafs are about to find out how committed Bruins coach Jim Montgomery is to his goalie rotation.

Jeremy Swayman is 2-0 so far against Toronto in their first-round playoff series and 5-0 against Toronto this season. Linus Ullmark, who lost Game 2, would be the starter for Saturday’s fourth game if Montgomery keeps alternating his goalies, as he did for almost all of the regular season and the playoffs so far.

Goalie rotations are not uncommon in the regular season, but they are virtually unknown in the playoffs, when there are no back-to-back games needing rest. Teams try to find the hot hand and ride with it.

“The rotation has been so good for us,” Montgomery said. “So it’s a hard decision.”

HURRICANES at ISLANDERS, Carolina leads 3-0, 2 p.m. EDT (TBS)

Pushed to the brink of elimination, the Islanders know they don’t have any margin of error left.

“We cannot think more than one game at a time,” coach Patrick Roy said. “We have our backs against the wall. So we need to focus about tomorrow. That’s all we can do. And then let’s see where we are after the game.”

Roy confirmed veteran goalie Semyon Varlamov will be back in goal.

Varlamov started the first two games and gave up six goals on 63 shots. The Islanders turned to Ilya Sorokin for Game 3, but he was pulled in the second period after allowing three goals on 14 shots. Varlamov came on and stopped all eight shots he faced in the Islanders’ 3-2 loss.


AP Sports Writers Vin Cherwoo, Jimmy Golen, Fred Goodall and Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.


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