For its slot in the order alone, Game 4s typically say a lot.
The series will either be over, basically over, or the result will square the competition, leaving each team to reset and search out the next advantage in a matchup that will, perhaps more often than not, require the full catalogue of games in order to complete.
They are not the most important in any matchup to be contested across seven games, as each is obviously worth the same in the end. But the results from these swing games, and the chances to make a stand one way or the other, often seem essential to determining a team’s path in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
At least, that’s been the case for the Dallas Stars.
With another superb defensive performance backed by more brilliance from netminder Anton Khudobin, the Stars defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 2-1 in Game 4 of the Western Conference final to secure a firm 3-1 advantage in the series that will determine one half of the NHL’s championship series.
While the Golden Knights are certainly at their most vulnerable since the postseason began — and could be completely flummoxed, now, by their scoring woes — they are too talented of team to write off, and it would be foolish to comfortably designate this series as one that’s already been decided.
But it’s a long road for Vegas now, because the Stars did again what they have done throughout their time in the bubble, which is to have success in the swings.
That first critical Game 4 moment for Dallas, and maybe its most important to date, came in its opening-round series versus the Calgary Flames.
Down 4-3 into the highly-desperate moments, and on the verge of falling behind 3-1 in the series, Joe Pavelski slid in a game-tying goal on his backhand to complete his first-ever playoff hat trick and send the game to overtime.
Now THIS is how you operate under pressure 🔥— #StanleyCup Playoffs on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) August 16, 2020
Joe Pavelski completes his hat trick in the final seconds of the third period 🎩🎩🎩
NHL Hat Trick Challenge, presented by @Enterprise pic.twitter.com/zIbFWTfxjI
Alexander Radulov scored late in the first bonus frame to even a series the Stars were dangerously close to letting slip. They followed up that victory with two more to take the series over Calgary in six.
A week or so later, the situation was reversed. Up 2-1 in the series versus the heavily-favoured Colorado Avalanche, the Stars jumped all over an opportunity to slap on a stranglehold, scoring three times in the first 11 minutes on shell-shocked backup netminder Pavel Francouz.
Colorado worked to scrape its way out of the early hole with two late markers in the second period, to which Dallas answered with two goals scored 32 seconds apart in the third — beginning with this expert finish from Roope Hintz.
The win didn’t deflate the competition quite to the extent it did in the previous round, but having to win three straight to survive the Stars proved to be too tall of a task for the Avalanche, whose comeback bid fell short in Game 7.
Every clash in a seven-game series is an opportunity to set the competition in a certain direction, but whether it’s surviving certain death or seizing absolute control, there’s something about Game 4 that really allows a team to manipulate the spirit of their opponent.
The Stars have now made the most of these moments in three consecutive series.
Now they stand one win away from getting to play one of those Game 4s in a Stanley Cup Final.
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