EDMONTON, Alberta -- The well-rested Dallas Stars took it to the banged-up Tampa Bay Lightning hard, and goaltender Anton Khudobin closed it out with 22 third-period saves as Dallas won Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final 4-1 on Saturday night.
Joel Hanley and Jamie Oleksiak continued the Stars' postseason trend of getting goals from defensemen, and Joel Kiviranta scored late in the second period to provide some breathing room. Khudobin continued to shine in his first playoffs as the starter, making 35 saves, some of them in spectacular fashion.
Khudobin was at his best in the third when the Lightning found their legs and tilted the ice toward him. He came up big on two penalty kills and strengthened his case for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
"We obviously got in a little penalty trouble there in the third," Stars forward Blake Comeau said. "He was there to bail us out."
Game 1 started out looking every bit like Dallas had four days off since winning the Western Conference final and Tampa Bay just one after clinching the East. The Stars, who grinded their way through the playoffs with tight-checking toughness, came out hitting, knowing the Lightning are not fully healthy.
"They were right on top of us," said Yanni Gourde, who scored Tampa Bay's only goal. "They were on top of us right from the get go, so we've got to adjust and do a better job."
Comeau hit 6-6 Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman on one of the first shifts, and Kiviranta crushed top center Brayden Point into the boards to set up Hanley's first NHL goal of any kind. Defenseman Esa Lindell also got into the action early with Point, cross-checking him and leveling him in open ice.
"That's just the makeup and identity of our team," Comeau said. "It's not just against Tampa. It's been our approach whole playoffs. I think we're playing our best hockey when we're engaged emotionally, physically, and getting in on the forecheck, pressuring their D, and everyone on our team has done a good job. When there's a chance to finish the hit, you finish the hit."
Four of the Stars' 25 first-period hits were on Point, who missed two games in the Eastern Conference final and is visibly playing through pain. No. 2 center Anthony Cirelli injured his right leg in the sixth game of that series 48 hours before this one started.
There was no rest for the weary Lightning, who were a step slow in the first couple of periods after failing to close out the New York Islanders in five and needing overtime to move on. The final still would have started two days later as the league tries to speed through the bubble playoffs and award the Stanley Cup, but they would've accumulated 73 fewer minutes of wear and tear.
Taking advantage of that was a point of emphasis for the Stars. Players could be heard yelling, "Hit 'em!" at points throughout the game in the empty arena as Dallas tries to wear down Tampa Bay much like St. Louis did to Boston in the final last year.