EDMONTON — Unlike many of the behemoth goaltenders in the modern N.H.L., the Dallas Stars’ Anton Khudobin checks in at just 5 feet 11 inches and 195 pounds. But the 34-year-old has stood tall between the pipes this summer.
Khudobin stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced on Saturday as the Stars moved within one game of advancing to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 20 years with a 2-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Stars now lead their best-of-seven series, 3-1. Dallas had led by 3-1 against Colorado in the previous round but needed an overtime goal in Game 7 to advance. After advancing out of the second round with a Game 7 win over the Vancouver Canucks, the Golden Knights will face elimination for the second time in this postseason in Game 5 on Monday night.
“We understand where we’re at and haven’t done anything,” the Stars’ Joe Pavelski said.
Pavelski and Jamie Benn had second-period goals on Saturday for the Stars. Khudobin went into Game 4 with 495 saves this postseason on 541 shots faced, more than any other goalie.
The Golden Knights’ best chance to tie the game came late in the third period, when they had a 5-on-3 power play for 1 minute 10 seconds with Pavelski and Jason Dickinson both in the penalty box on tripping calls. After Vegas Coach Peter DeBoer called a timeout, Max Pacioretty set up to anchor the two-man advantage from the right face-off dot. The Golden Knights recorded three shots with at 5 on 3 and one at 5 on 4. Khudobin stopped them all on the way to his 11th win of the postseason, second only to Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has 12.
“He’s a battler, he’s a competitive guy,” Stars Coach Rick Bowness said of Khudobin. “We’ve seen this for two years now, but that’s what he is. He’s going to battle right till the end.”
Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez was the only player to score on Khudobin on Saturday, with a slap shot on the power play that beat him high to the blocker side to open the scoring 7:44 into the second period.
“I thought we created some really good looks,” DeBoer said. “I think we had two or three posts so, with one goal, you know, we’ve got to find other ways to make it tougher on them but the effort’s there to do that.”
“It seemed like every shift was pretty much the same thing,” Vegas forward Reilly Smith said. “We’re getting shots through, but we’re just not finding the rebounds.”
Martinez’s goal was the third in the series with the man advantage for Vegas, but the lead held up for just 3:50.
Back on the ice for the first time since Sept. 2, Stars forward Andrew Cogliano picked up his first point of the playoffs after he stripped the puck from Vegas defenseman Nate Schmidt in the Dallas offensive zone. His quick feed set up Pavelski’s ninth goal of the playoffs, with 8:26 left to play in the second period, on just the seventh Stars shot of the game.
From there, the momentum swung in Dallas’s favor. The Stars outshot the Golden Knights, 7-2, over the remaining 11:34 of the second period, which saw Vegas take two penalties and surrender its first power-play goal in seven games.
The Stars are the most penalized team still alive in the playoffs, while Vegas has shown the most discipline. The Golden Knights had successfully killed all five penalties they took during their first three games against Dallas and hadn’t allowed a power-play goal since Game 4 of their second-round series against Vancouver until Benn connected with 59 seconds left in the second period.
Just 10 seconds after Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb was whistled for holding Alexander Radulov, Benn fired a wrist shot past Robin Lehner for his seventh goal of the playoffs, while Pavelski worked as a screener in front.
In the third, Dallas locked down defensively, allowing Benn’s goal to stand up as his first game-winner of these playoffs and the third of his career.
Already missing the injured forward Radek Faksa along with defensemen Taylor Fedun and Stephen Johns and goaltender Ben Bishop, the Stars lost another player on Saturday. Forward Roope Hintz left the game late in the first period after sustaining an apparent injury and did not return. Bowness said he would have an update on Hintz’s status on Sunday.
Forward Nick Cousins slotted back into the Vegas lineup for the first time in three games after Tomas Nosek was injured midway through Game 3.