Stars’ ‘secret weapon’ Kiviranta hero in Game 7

No matter what happens to the Dallas Stars in the rest of their postseason journey, rookie Joel Kiviranta completing a hat trick to win Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals — in a game he wasn’t even supposed to appear in — is now a hockey fairy tale.

Kiviranta scored his third goal of the game at 7 minutes, 24 seconds of overtime to give the Stars a 5-4 win over the Colorado Avalanche, sending them to the Western Conference finals for the first time in 12 years.

“We had a secret Finnish weapon over here,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said.

Kiviranta appeared in 11 regular-season games for the Stars, and this was just the third postseason game of his career. The last player to record a hat trick in a Game 7 was Wayne Gretzky with the Los Angeles Kings in 1993.

The 23-year-old rookie from Finland wouldn’t have appeared in Game 7 had it not been for forward Andrew Cogliano being deemed “unfit to play” by the Stars before the game. Adding to Kiviranta’s fairy tale: Cogliano is one of the NHL’s most storied iron men, not missing a game to injury for 10 straight seasons during one stretch of his career.

“To step in like that — Game 7, your [third] playoff game — and score these crucial goals … if you dig in and look at his game, what he does on the ice, how he plays with the puck, especially on the boards, it’s unreal,” said defenseman John Klingberg. “He doesn’t lose a single battle. He deserves all the credit right now. Couldn’t be happier for him.”

Kiviranta’s first goal of the game, at 3:06 of the second period, tied the score at 2-2. His second goal, at 16:30 of the third period, tied the score at 4-4 to eventually force overtime.

The overtime series clincher saw Dallas defenseman Andrej Sekera skate behind the net with the puck. Kiviranta was standing in front of the Colorado net and snuck out to the slot, undetected by the Avalanche defenders. Sekera fed him the puck, he snapped a shot past goalie Michael Hutchinson and the celebration began.

“I don’t know. It was just a great pass behind the net and maybe they just lost me a little bit in front. Unforgettable moment,” said Kiviranta. “I didn’t know what to expect for this day. Obviously the first Game 7 in my life. It felt like a normal game for me. It was pretty fun.”

Kiviranta was signed in May 2019 by the Stars as a European free agent from Vaasan Sport of Liiga, the Finnish pro league where he had played since 2014. He played 48 games for the AHL Texas Stars, but he was added to the expanded postseason roster for Dallas in the NHL’s restarted season this summer.

“Whenever we played him, we had a ton of confidence in him. He’s undaunted by anything out there. He’s not intimidated by one thing. He’s a great little competitor,” said coach Rick Bowness. “Is it nice to see him get rewarded with goals? Yes. Are we surprised at that? Yes. Did we expect that kind of effort? Yeah, that’s what we saw when we played him earlier in the year.”

Both Dallas and Colorado were seeking redemption for Game 7 semifinal losses last season. The Avalanche lost by one goal to the San Jose Sharks in last season’s semifinals. Against Dallas, the Avalanche rallied from a 3-1 series deficit despite missing several key players to injury — including their top two goalies and captain Gabriel Landeskog, who was out of Game 7 after getting a leg sliced by a teammate’s skate in Game 6.

“Two straight years. Game 7 losses. It’s tough. There are no moral victories here. We came here to win. We didn’t get the job done,” said Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon. “I would have liked to see our team fully healthy, that’s for sure.”

Dallas lost in double overtime to the eventual champion St. Louis Blues last postseason. But Bowness said there wasn’t any panic on his bench or his dressing room late in the game.

“Listen, we’ve been here. We were here last year against St. Louis, going into overtime. It’s our turn. It’s our time. We just had to stay with it. You wait for a break. We got it tonight,” he said.

The Western Conference finals between Dallas and the winner of Game 7 between the Vegas Golden Knights and Vancouver Canucks is set for Sunday night.

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