DALLAS (AP) — Wyatt Johnston is no longer a teenager, not that he’s played like one at all during his rookie season with a Dallas Stars team that is headed to the Western Conference final.
A day after his 20th birthday, Johnston scored a crucial goal for the Stars off a hard ricochet in their 2-1 victory over the Seattle Kraken in Game 7 in the second-round series Monday night.
“It’s a world-class play by one of the youngest players in the league,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “He’s been fantastic all year. He’s a big part of our group. It feels like the deeper we get, the more we rely on him, the more responsibility he wants.”
Roope Hintz also scored for the Stars and 24-year-old goalie Jake Oettinger had 22 saves while again bouncing back after a loss.
Dallas moves on to play first-year Stars coach DeBoer’s former team, the Vegas Golden Knights. Game 1 of the West final is Friday night in Las Vegas.
DeBoer improved to 7-0 in Game 7s, this being the fourth different team he led to a win in the finale of a best-of-seven series that went the distance. Darryl Sutter and Scott Bowman are the only other coaches to do that.
It was the fourth time in five seasons the Stars got a Game 7 — the others were all away from home. They hadn’t won a Game 7 at home since 2000, when they made the Stanley Cup Final for the season in a row, a year after their only title.
In the only other Game 7 they hosted at American Airlines Center, the Stars lost 6-1 to St. Louis in a second-round series in 2016.
Johnston made it 2-0 with 7:12 left, when he gathered a puck that ricocheted off the back boards to the left of the Seattle net. The kid who has played in every game this season, and is living with veteran Joe Pavelksi’s family, then sent a shot that went off the shoulder and mask of goalie Phillip Grubauer before going into the net.
Grubauer stopped 26 shots, two weeks after his 33 saves when Seattle won at Colorado 2-1 in another Game 7 to knock out last year’s Stanley Cup champion.
Hintz’s ninth goal of the playoffs was credited as an unassisted tally and came with 4:01 left in the second period, the deepest in this series any game got before a score.
Oliver Bjorkstrand scored with 17.6 seconds left, preventing the second shutout this postseason season for Oettinger. Bjorkstrand had the both goals against the Avalanche in that Game 7 last month.
This series finale came exactly one year after Oettinger’s 64-save performance in another Game 7 — a 3-2 loss at Calgary after Johnny Gaudreau’s OT goal ended the first-round series.
Oettinger improved to 5-0 after losses this postseason. He allowed four goals on 18 shots during Game 6 in Seattle on Saturday, when he was pulled 4 1/2 minutes into the second period.
“Yeah, that’s playoff hockey. I don’t think had my best series of my career, but it shows how good of a team we are,” Oettinger said. “It’s ups and downs and, you know, you think might be out of it, and the next thing you know you’re going to the conference final.”
Dallas and Las Vegas will meet in the Western Conference Final for the second time in four seasons. The Stars beat the DeBoer-coached Golden Knights in five games in 2020, the postseason that was played in the NHL’s bubble in Toronto and Edmonton during the pandemic.
The second-year Kraken had forced Game 7 with a 6-3 win at home on Saturday.
“We pushed as hard as we could push tonight. We couldn’t find our top gear,” Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said. “Give Dallas a lot of credit in that regard. To a certain degree, they answered the game that we played in Game 6. They came home into their home building and put us under pressure.”
Adam Larsson had four of Seattle’s 13 blocked shots in the first period, two in quick succession before Dallas had its only power play. After blocking Evgenii Dadonov’s shot, Larsson knocked away Jamie Benn’s attempt on a rebound before the Stars captain was cross-checked by by Eeli Tolvanen in front of the net.
Seattle then had seven blocked shots during the power play, not allowing the Stars to get a shot on goal even while they pretty much kept the puck in their offensive zone that entire time.
The Kraken had only eight more blocked shots the rest of the game.
Dallas had the only shot, a short-hander try by Hintz, when the Kraken had its only man-advantage after Benn was called for a high stick later in the first period.
Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen got a puck past Grubauer only 3 1/2 minutes into the game, but it ricocheted off the crossbar and went out of play behind the net.
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