For the second time since 2020, the Dallas Stars are playing in the Western Conference Final.
After knocking out the upstart Seattle Kraken in seven games with a 2-1 win Monday night, Dallas booked a date in the third round with the Vegas Golden Knights.
It wasn’t pretty, but really, aside from three bad periods in game one, three and six, the Stars proved they were the better team in a lengthy series, and handled Seattle’s strong back-checking pressure and solid goaltending to win.
The two matched up in 2020 on the Stars’ miracle run to the Stanley Cup Final, where Dallas dominated and took it 4-1. Both teams have changed significantly since then- even current Stars coach Peter Deboer was on the bench for the Golden Knights. Here’s a look at some factors that might influence the series.
Dallas has been great at home this season overall, but especially in the playoffs. The Stars went 22-10-9 at the American Airlines Center in the regular season, and now are 5-2 in the postseason. Aside from game one against, goalie Jake Oettinger has been his best at home as well, highlighted by a shutout of Minnesota in game five of round one.
Vegas earned the 1-seed in the regular season, so 3-seed Dallas does lose home ice advantage it’s had the entire postseason thus far. Can they earn at last a split at T-Mobile Arena to try to flip the script?
What’s going on with Robertson, Oettinger?
Dallas’ clearest flaws have come from the inconsistent play of team leaders Jason Robertson and Oettinger. After scoring 46 goals in the regular season, Minnesota and Seattle have keyed in on Robertson and held him to just two goals through 13 postseason games. He did show signs of breaking out of it with a three-assist effort in game six vs. the Kraken, but still hasn’t quite been the same player he was in the regular season. Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski have more than picked up the slack, though- combining for 17 goals in the first two rounds.
Oettinger is a different story. It’s been more of a Jekyll-and-Hyde effect through the first two rounds. He was 18.6 seconds away from a second shutout in Monday’s game had it not been for a tally with 18.6 seconds left. On the other hand, he gave up at least three goals in a whopping three times that series. The Stars need him to steal at least two games in Vegas to have a chance- which he is certainly capable of doing (look no further than his 64-save performance in game seven vs. Calgary last year).
After missing the playoffs for the first time in their young franchise history last season, the Golden Knights rallied with a Pacific division title this season. Former Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy has done the opposite of what his former team did this postseason and helped them back to the conference final, led by a new core.
It’s a completely different core led by much less starpower than years past. Former Buffalo Sabre Jack Eichel leads the way with 14 points, while former depth piece Chandler Stephenson has emerged as a top-six player. Big parts of its early core like William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Alex Pietrangelo are still around.
In net, the young tandem of Adin Hill and former Winnipeg Jet Laurent Brossoit lead the way. Of the teams still remaining in the playoffs, Vegas has split its goalie starts the most, but Brossoit has been the hotter hand of late and will likely start game one.
DSF Prediction: Dallas’ run comes to an end in six games. Vegas has re-tooled and is a deeper, less arrogant team than three years ago. It’s hard to imagine Oettinger being able to steal two or three games on the road, which he’ll need to do- especially if Robertson still isn’t scoring. I don’t think Pavelski and Hintz can carry the Stars past a more solid all-around Golden Knights team by themselves. But hey, it’s been a great run – and I’ve certainly been wrong before.
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