Golden Knights stay alive, force Game 7 vs. Stars: 5 takeaways

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LAS VEGAS — Noah Hanifin brought the sold-out crowd at T-Mobile Arena to its feet with a late goal to keep the Vegas Golden Knights’ season alive Friday night with a 2-0 victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of their first-round series.

It was a goalie duel, with zero goals through the first 40 minutes despite plenty of grade-A chances for both sides, but Hanifin finally broke through with a wrist shot to the top corner of the net with just over 10 minutes to play. Vegas goalie Adin Hill stopped all 23 shots he faced for his third career playoff shutout, and Mark Stone iced the game with an empty-net goal from the other end of the ice.

It was the first time in franchise history that the Golden Knights avoided elimination outside of a Game 7. They were 0-3 in those situations prior to Friday, but played their best game of the playoffs to force a Game 7 on Sunday night in Dallas.

Hanifin delivers

The Golden Knights invested a lot in their newest defenseman this spring, trading a first-round pick to Calgary at the deadline, then inking Noah Hanifin to an eight-year, $58.8 million contract extension weeks later.

He delivered for them in the biggest moment of the season on Friday night, scoring the game’s only goal on a perfectly placed shot over Jake Oettinger’s shoulder that deflected slightly off the stick of Stars defenseman Ryan Suter. He fired the puck into the net, and flew around the boards fist-pumping while the crowd exploded with applause.

Hanifin is set to be a Golden Knight through 2032, and in his first taste of playoff hockey in Vegas, he has been excellent. With two goals and three assists in the postseason, he’s tied for second on the team in points, and tied for fourth among all NHL defensemen.

Hill rewards Cassidy’s trust

Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy surprised many with his choice to switch to Adin Hill in net after Game 4, but Hill rewarded his coach’s trust on Friday. He stopped all 23 shots he faced for the third playoff shutout of his career, and the first for either team in this series.

Hill was perfect despite facing several breakaway chances. Midway through the second period, he stoned Tyler Seguin’s breakaway, then made a follow-up save immediately after on the rebound. The puck bounced back to Seguin on the side of the net, but Hill lunged across to stop the third chance with his blocker.

In the third period, he didn’t face as many shots, but was rock-solid as Dallas pushed for the tying goal late. It was only his second appearance of these playoffs, but he showed why the coaching staff has so much belief in him.

Oettinger held his own

Meanwhile on the other end of the ice, Jake Oettinger was nearly just as good. He played confidently at the top of his crease, facing far more offense than in any of the first five games of the series. He stopped 28 of 29 to hold Dallas in the game despite the Stars not having their usual defensive game.

Oettinger made several excellent saves, none better than his left pad stop on Nicolas Roy’s one-timer from the doorstep in the first period. The Golden Knights made a strong offensive push early, but Oettinger stood tall while the rest of his team found its footing.

Vegas finally found its game at even strength

The Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup a year ago by outplaying every team at five-on-five. Their special teams weren’t as effective as you’d expect from a championship team, but they made up for it with an absolutely dominant game at even strength. Through the first five games of this series, that type of advantage was non-existent, but it finally showed up on Friday.

For the first time in the playoffs, we saw Vegas’ speed, and it changed the entire dynamic of the game. Wary of speed going the other direction, Stars defensemen stopped pinching as aggressively as they did earlier in the series, and suddenly the neutral zone opened up for the Golden Knights. They passed the puck well through the middle of the ice to set up scoring chances with their dangerous transition game, but Oettinger had answers for nearly all of them.

Golden Knights locked it down in the third period

Both teams have shown the ability to clamp down to protect a lead late. Vegas did it in Dallas for a Game 2 victory. The Stars did it in back-to-back games to take a series lead, and the Golden Knights returned the favor on Friday night.

The Golden Knights held the Stars to only five shots in the third period, shutting down all of the open ice that was available over the first 40 minutes. They did it with smart plays through the neutral zone, not handing Dallas easy opportunities, and by protecting the front of the net in the defensive zone.

(Photo of Noah Hanifin: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

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