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John Klingberg Is Unsung

The Dallas defenseman came up big in Game 1 against Vegas.
Gerry Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Gerry Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

You don't shut out the Vegas Golden Knights in the first game of the conference final by yourself. The Dallas Stars had many heroes in Game 1 of their series with the Knights, from goalie Anton Khudobin to captain Jamie Benn, who set a physical tone and played excellent two-way hockey for the team.

But let's not leave defenseman John Klingberg out of the equation. He was, after all, the lone goal-scorer in the 1-0 victory, but he did so much more than that. The offensively-gifted blueliner was part of a locked-down Stars strategy that held Vegas to 12 shots total through the first two periods and just 25 overall. Meanwhile, the Swedish national showed off his edge with a tectonic collision that sent Reilly Smith flying in the middle frame.

"We know how Vegas plays; they play pretty similar to us," Klingberg said. "All their scoring chances and offensive game comes from O-zone time and we did a good job coming back as a five-man unit. It's easier for the 'D' to take the hit - we've got guys supporting, the second 'D' or a third guy coming in and supporting the puck and we're out of the zone quickly."

A lot of pundits had Vegas winning this series and true, this was only first blood, but the Stars really pushed the Golden Knights around in the first five minutes of the game. Not coincidentally, it was only 2:36 into the game when a Benn rush led to Klingberg gathering the puck in a plum scoring area and whipping one past Vegas netminder Marc-Andre Fleury (who was superb for the remainder of the game).

"It's a huge part of our game to get the puck in there," Klingberg said. "We know we're fast and heavy, so let's spend even more time there."

What will truly be interesting is to see what impact Ryan Reaves has once he returns from his one-game suspension for a hit to the head on Vancouver's Tyler Motte. Reaves is of course one of the last full-time enforcers in the NHL and the burly Golden Knights winger can really change the tone of a shift with his physical play.

But for now, Dallas has the advantage and it's in part thanks to Klingberg, a very talented player who has taken a backseat in the spotlight department to fellow blueliner Miro Heiskanen on most nights. The young Finn has been Dallas' early Conn Smythe favorite thanks to his silky puckhandling, minute-munching and offensive contributions (Heiskanen leads the Stars with 21 points in 16 games).

One person who has not slept on Klingberg is his coach, Rick Bowness.

"Klinger, since the start of the round robin, has been emotionally involved," he said. "He's engaged, he's here to win. You can see his physical play, he had some fantastic hits. What's impressive from a coaching perspective is his willingness to take a hit to make a play. Defensively he's been rock-solid, he moves the puck well, skates so well with it, he's very confident and he's playing great two-way hockey here. He has bought in 100 percent to what we're trying to do here."

And what they are trying to do is win a Stanley Cup by being a capital-T team. It's not always pretty to outsiders, but Dallas is now three wins away from a berth in the Cup final and they're doing it by getting gutsy performances from guys like Klingberg, Benn and Tyler Seguin - all players who were putting up a lot more points a few years ago, but not as many crucial wins.

"That's Dallas Stars hockey," Bowness said. "We were skating, we were on top of them, we were creating a lot of offense from playing good defensive structure all over the ice. I know we only scored one goal, but we had a lot of opportunities. You have to battle and you have to stick to your structure."

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