The Dallas Stars struck hard against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, winning the opening game of the Stanley Cup final 4-1 in Edmonton.
Joel Hanley, Jamie Oleksiak and Joel Kiviranta scored for the Stars in the first two periods and Jason Dickinson added an empty-netter in the waning minutes as Dallas held off Tampa Bay's third-quarter rally bid to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven championship series.
It seems an unlikely run for a Stars team that had lost six games in a row before the coronavirus pandemic forced the NHL to pause its season in March.
They were outscored 10-5 in the round-robin when play resumed in August -- but made their way into the playoffs and now have a chance to add a second NHL title to the one they captured in 1999.
Hanley opened the scoring at 5:40 of the first, taking a pass from Roope Hintz and beating Andrei Vasilevskiy to notch his first career NHL goal.
Yanni Gourde pulled the Lightning level seven minutes later on a flukey goal after the puck hit the skate of both Gourde and Hintz.
Oleksiak scored off his own rebound at 12:30 of the second, and Kiviranta -- the hat-trick hero of game seven in the second round -- stretched the lead to 3-1 with 27.4 seconds left in the second.
- Khudobin shines in goal -
Dallas held Tampa Bay's leading playoff scorer Nikita Kucherov without a shot until the third period, but Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin worked hard in the third, making 22 of his 35 saves as Dallas were out-shot 22-2.
"He made some huge saves at the right moments," Stars coach Rick Bowness said. "You know you're on your heels a little bit and with their elite-level offensive skills you know they're going to get some chances. You don't want to give them a goal at the wrong time and you need a big save at the right time.
"Anton certainly did that for us tonight."
The Stars had the luxury of four nights' rest after completing a five-game Western Conference final win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday.
Tampa Bay had just one day off after playing back-to-back overtime games in their Eastern Conference final triumph over the New York Islanders.
"Been a few days here, we got some rest," Dallas captain Jamie Benn said. "I thought we had a good start to the game, they got a lucky one but it didn't faze us and we just kept playing our game."
"They're a good team, they're going to get their chances," Benn added. "(Khudobin) made a lot of great saves there in the third period, kept us in it, and we found a way to win."
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said his players came out flat.
"I don't even know if you need to take a shower after the first two periods," he said. "We just didn't have our legs, and clearly it showed.
"We're going to have to make it a little tougher on their goalie if we're going to score."
Game two is on Monday in Edmonton, one of two quarantine "hub cities" used by the NHL when it resumed play in August, and host of both conference finals and the Stanley Cup final.
The Cup itself was on display Saturday -- a break from tradition, which usually sees it brought to an arena only when a team has a chance to clinch the title.