DALLAS — Jason Robertson is frequently scoring goals for the Dallas Stars, Jake Oettinger is stopping shots, and captain Jamie Benn is about to return from a two-game suspension.
The Western Conference Final isn’t over yet, and suddenly feels much different.
After the Vegas Golden Knights won the first three games, the Stars staved off elimination two games in a row in these NHL playoffs. They are now back home for Game 6 on Monday night, looking to do it again and force a Game 7 to determine who faces the waiting Florida Panthers for the Stanley Cup.
“We put ourselves in a really tough spot, and to get to this point right now, it shows you the character that we have in our room and the belief we have,” said Oettinger, who has stopped 64 of 68 shots since allowing three goals on five shots in the first 7:10 and getting pulled from Game 3. “Even being down 3-0, the series was far from over. We’ve done our job up to this point, but unfortunately for us, our backs are still against the wall.”
Dallas is only the fifth team to extend a conference final or NHL semifinal series to a sixth game after losing the first three, and first since the 2008 Stars lost Game 6 against Detroit. Only the 1975 New York Islanders against Philadelphia, and the 1939 New York Rangers versus Boston then forced Game 7, and both lost those deciding games.
Still, has the pressure shifted to the Golden Knights, as Stars coach Pete DeBoer said would happen if his team won Game 5? Vegas lost both Games 4 and 5 after leading 1-0 and 2-1 in each of them.
“We’re playing a desperate hockey team, and nobody ever said it was going to be easy. We’ve got to match their urgency and desperation,” Vegas defenseman Alec Martinez said.
“[This} is the Western Conference Final, right? He’s trying to make a story in the media, I think,” Knights captain Mark Stone said. “There’s pressure on both teams to try to make the Stanley Cup Final.”
Dallas will host Game 6 on Monday night at the same time the NBA’s Celtics, who overcame a 3-0 deficit in their conference final, are playing Game 7 at home against the Miami Heat.
The Florida Panthers completed their East Final sweep of Carolina last Wednesday. They are waiting to see if they will go to Las Vegas or Dallas for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final next Saturday.
Vegas, which led the Western Conference in the regular season with 51 wins and 111 points, has consecutive losses for the first time since mid-March. The only time the Knights lost four games in a row was at the end of January, part of a month-ending stretch when they lost seven of eight. But they are also trying to get to their second Stanley Cup Final in the franchise’s six seasons, and are this deep in the playoffs already for the fourth time.
Benn was suspended after his cross-check and stick to the neck of Stone, who fell to the ice without his stick after the captains collided less than two minutes into Game 3 on Tuesday night.
The Stars came off the ice Saturday night and were met by Benn dressed in a suit and tie. No. 14 will be back on the ice Monday night.
“I think what it tells you is what Jamie Benn means to them,” DeBoer said. “I think that’s a direct reflection on what the guy means to our team in that dressing room what they’ve done the last couple of nights.”
Ty Dellandrea, a healthy scratch earlier in the series and in the lineup with Benn and Evgenii Dadonov (lower body) both out, scored twice in a span of 87 seconds in the third period Saturday night as Dallas won, 4-2.
Robertson scored the Stars’ second tying goal Saturday night. He had both of their goals in regulation to twice tie Game 4 at home Thursday night, getting his first career multigoal payoff game before 38-year-old Joe Pavelski became the oldest player with an overtime goal for a team facing elimination.
“The fourth [win] is always the hardest, right? I mean, the season on the line, so obviously they feel that they’ve got to get it done. And, you know, it’s just as much pressure on us to keep it going, keep our composure,” said Robertson, with five goals this series after only three in his previous 20 playoff games. “All we can do now is focus on Game 6. Hopefully, ideally, we don’t go down by a goal, but if we do, we’re going to look for that same response.”
AP Sports Writer Mark Anderson in Las Vegas contributed to this report.