Unlikely scorers for Stars again to win Stanley Cup opener

Sports

Dallas Stars defenseman Joel Hanley (39) celebrates his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning with teammates Andrej Sekera (5) and Roope Hintz (24) during first-period NHL Stanley Cup finals hockey action in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Joel Hanley had never scored a goal in the NHL until Game 1 of the Stanley Cup for the Dallas Stars.

Just another unlikely scorer this postseason for the Stars, like rookie Joel Kiviranta.

“That’s how you win in the playoffs. You rely on your top-end guys to get you some offense or get you some chances, then you rely on some guys that have to step up every now and then and score some huge goal for us,” interim head coach Rick Bowness said. “All of a sudden, they’re jumping up and making you a better team.”

Hanley scored the first goal in this unusual Stanley Cup, and Kiviranta gave the Stars a two-goal advantage in the second period on way to a 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lighting inside the NHL bubble in Edmonton on Saturday night.

Even Hanley would have never scripted his first goal coming on the biggest stage.

“Definitely not,” Hanley said. “Obviously it’s something you dream about when you’re like young and stuff. Just cool to be able to contribute with a goal like that. Pretty cool to be in the finals, too.”

A 29-year-old defenseman, Hanley has played 46 regular-season games for three teams over the past five seasons, never putting a puck in the net. That changed 5:40 into the Stars’ first Stanley Cup Final game since 2000 when he scored off a feed from Roope Hintz, who collected the puck after it was dislodged by Kiviranta’s hit on Brayden Point.

“I just tried to pick a corner and shoot as hard as I could, and it was lucky enough to go in,” Hanley said.

Hanley had played only eight regular season games and didn’t get into the postseason until Game 7 in the second round against Colorado. That was the same game where Kiviranta had a hat trick, including the series-clinching goal in overtime. Kiviranta had scored only once in 11 regular-season games and appeared in only two postseason games before that.

Kiviranta has played every game since, and the young forward also had a game-tying goal with 3:37 left in regulation of the last clincher for the Stars: Game 5 against top-ranked Vegas on Monday, where Denis Gurianov scored in overtime to give Dallas a breather before the final.

“He’s fearless,” Bowness said. “As inexperienced as he is in terms of playing in our league, he’s one of our best forwards making plays off the boards with the puck, lot of poise and confidence with the puck. … He’s been a huge help for us. If I was a smarter coach, I would have had him playing earlier than this.”

The goal by Kiviranta in the final minute of the second period against Tampa Bay put Dallas up 3-1.

In between the goals by Hanley and Kiviranta was a nifty tiebreaking score by Jamie Oleksiak, a defenseman who scored on his own rebound. Oleksiak got a nice pass from Alexander Radulov and took his left-handed shot that ricocheted behind a defender, and then reached out with his stick to regain control of the puck and knocking it in.

That was Oleksiak’s fifth goal in 22 games this postseason, after scoring only three in 69 games during the regular season. The 10th-year player has never scored more than five goals in a regular season.

“”Not thinking too deeply on it. Playoffs, getting the D involved a little more, and I think the opportunities have come my way, and I’ve been able to put a couple in,” Oleksiak said. “I think it’s just a product of good team play, and kind of our system and what it allows the D men to do. It’s definitely nice to contribute in that way.”

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