Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin, who had 32 saves in a 2-1 Game 4 win over Vegas, bats the puck out of the air on Saturday in Edmonton, Alberta. Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

The Dallas Stars were mired in a six-game losing streak when the season was paused for 4 1/2 months because of the coronavirus pandemic, and have been outscored and outshot since getting inside the NHL bubble.

Yet now they are one of only three teams still playing, already set for their first Stanley Cup final since 2000.

“We’re finding ways to win right now, and that’s all that matters,” captain Jamie Benn said.

With their captain and two rookies scoring goals in another comeback, the Stars wrapped up the best-of-seven Western Conference Final in five games with a 3-2 overtime victory against the top-seeded Vegas Golden Knights.

“We’re not going home!” goaltender Anton Khudobin screamed after his 34-save performance in the clincher.

From their miserable 1-7-1 start to the season way back in October, to an unexpected coaching change for off-ice issues in December after they were back on the winning track, and then that 0-4-2 span into mid-March, these Stars still have a chance to win their second Stanley Cup championship.


A key is 65-year-old Rick Bowness, who joined the Stars as an assistant coach before the 2018-19 season and became the interim head coach in December after second-year head coach Jim Montgomery was fired. Montgomery, the former star player at the University of Maine, took the Stars to the second round of the playoffs and a double-overtime Game 7 loss to eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis in his only full season. He later entered alcohol rehabilitation.

“Bones is a big part of this team,” Benn said. “It’s been a crazy year for all of us, and I’m sure especially him.”

Bowness is now in his third Stanley Cup Final in 10 seasons, his first in charge. He was on Tampa Bay’s staff five years ago when the Lightning – a potential opponent this year – last made it, and with Vancouver in 2011.

“It’s a feeling you can’t describe,” Bowness said. “You only get so many cracks at going to the Stanley Cup finals and you’ve got to take advantage of it. For me as a coach, it’s just gratifying for the players. They worked so hard.”

Tampa Bay took a 3-1 series lead over the New York Islanders into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final on Tuesday night, also in Edmonton.

Dallas trailed 2-0 in the opening seconds of the third period Monday night, and finally got on the board with Benn’s goal midway through the period. Joel Kiviranta, whose OT goal in Game 7 of the second-round clincher over Colorado capped his hat trick, then tied the game with 3:47 left. Denis Gurianov scored the game-winner on a one-timer during a power play 3:36 into overtime.


“We’ve done this all year. We’ve come back from behind all year,” Bowness said. “Down 2-0, there was no panic. We just were a very confident group that we could respond to the challenge.”

The finale against the Golden Knights marked the fifth time this postseason Dallas came back to win when trailing after the first period — and the third time to win when trailing after two periods. The Stars have also won six games after giving up the first goal, two short of the franchise record set by their 1999 Stanley Cup-winning team. They are 5-0 in overtime, and 10-1 in one-goal games.

The Stars finished the Western Conference Final with 118 shots on goal — 48 fewer than Vegas had in the five games. In their 21 postseason games overall, they have been outscored 64-62, making them the first team to enter the Stanley Cup Final with a negative goal differential in the postseason since the 1968 St. Louis Blues.

CAPITALS: Peter Laviolette was hired Tuesday as coach of the Washington Capitals, who hope to harness his ability to quickly take a team to the Stanley Cup Final in what could be the final few years of their championship window.

Laviolette is the first Cup-winning coach hired in the franchise’s 46-year history and only the second with previous NHL head coaching experience during the Alex Ovechkin era. He takes over for Todd Reirden, who was given his first head job and then fired following a back-to-back second-round playoff exits.

Laviolette coached the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006 and took the Philadelphia Flyers to the final in 2010 and the Nashville Predators in 2017. In Nashville, he succeeded Barry Trotz, who joined the Capitals in 2014 and led them to the title in 2018 before leaving in a contract dispute.

Hiring Laviolette, 55, puts a seasoned hand back at the controls days shy of Ovechkin’s 35th birthday and with the team’s core group trying to capture one more championship. He is Ovechkin’s seventh coach since he entered the league in 2005.

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