The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue to roll on as we finally reach the conference finals. The Dallas Stars battle the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Stars have reached the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2008 in which they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in six games.
Vegas, on the other hand, has reached the conference finals for the second time in three years as they defeated the Winnipeg Jets in five games to reach the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season in the NHL.
The Stars’ appearance in the conference finals is a bit unexpected, considering many expected them to lose to the Calgary Flames in the first round. However, they proved to be resilient despite trailing 2-1 in the series. They scored game-winning goals in Games 2 and 4 (overtime winner in Game 4) and in Game 6, they won 7-3 after trailing 3-0 in the first period.
The second-round matchup against the star-studded Colorado Avalanche proved to be even more grueling. The Stars capitalized on the Avalanche’s goaltender woes and defensive breakdowns to take a 3-1 series lead. However, the dominant front line of the Avs would not go down easily. The Avs jumped out to a 5-0 lead in Game 5’s first period and they won 6-3. After an Avs win in Game 6, the Stars had to face another Game 7 in the Western Conference Semifinals.
In 2016, the Stars lost in the second round in Game 7 to the St. Louis Blues 4-0 and last year, they lost to the Blues in a double-overtime Game 7 in the second round once again. This year, a third time would be the charm as the Stars defeated the Avs 5-4 in Game 7 with Joel Kiviranta’s game-winner in overtime. Kiviranta scored a Game 7 hat-trick, the first since Wayne Gretzky in the 1993 Western Conference Finals.
The Stars relied on aggressive checking, blocking and sturdy goaltending. They constantly disrupted the rhythm of the Avs front line. Defenseman Miro Heiskanen has been the engine to the Stars whole team this postseason. He sets the tone defensively and has assisted on 16 goals, tied for the most with Avs star Nathan MacKinnon. With veteran presences such as Joe Pavelski, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn on the front line, the Stars are a dangerous team.
The next challenge for the Stars is the team that beat them 5-3 in the round-robin tournament after the Stars led 3-1, the Golden Knights. Vegas has looked dominant this postseason despite being forced to seven games by the young and tenacious Vancouver Canucks.
Vegas dominated the shots-on-goal battle throughout the series — highlighted by more than doubling Vancouver’s total in Game 6 and 7 (48-22 and 34-14 respectively). Robin Lehner procured three shutouts in the series, including Game 7 on only 14 Canucks’ shot attempts.
Vegas finished off the pesky Canucks after taking care of business in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks, eliminating them in five games. Vegas relies on smooth puck movement, fast tempo and dependable goaltending. Vegas has had to face elite goaltending performers in Corey Crawford (Game 4, had 49 saves) and Thatcher Demko (48 saves on 48 shots) but still outduels their respective teams in the series.
Among the 16 teams that qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Vegas leads all of them in shots per game (Shots/GP) with 37.1. They are the best in the NHL at creating chances to score and their crisp passing and puck movement is a strong aspect of the team not reflected in the stat sheet.
Vegas is a collective unit as they don’t rely on any star to lead their attack. When looking at the stats, one player does not truly stand out. Shea Theodore leads the team with 16 points (6G, 10A) but production has come from everywhere as at 10 skaters have produced at least seven points this postseason for Vegas.
This series is going to be an intense battle. The Stars’ defense and timely scoring makes them a strong contender for the Stanley Cup. They will be a tough out for Vegas, just like their round-robin matchup. The Stars led 3-1 heading into the third period but Vegas exploded for four goals in a 5-3 win.
The Stars held off the Avalanche but from what I have seen this postseason, Vegas is too much for any team to beat in a seven-game series. Their puck movement can frustrate any defense and unlike Colorado, Vegas has stability with their goaltending. This series will go seven games and Vegas will prevail to reach their second Stanley Cup Finals in three years.
Prediction: Golden Knights in 7