With their victory over the Vancouver Canucks in a thrilling Game Seven Friday night, the Vegas Golden Knights punched their ticket to face the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final.
It is, in the minds of many observers, the expected matchup. Colorado and Vancouver made things interesting and pushed their respective outings to seven games, but Dallas and Vegas pulled it off with some serious heroics.
For the Stars, it was Joel Kiviranta’s hat trick that pulled them past the Avalanche. He stepped in after the iron man Andrew Cogliano was deemed unfit to play for Game Seven.
For the Golden Knights, it was a team effort – a ruthless barrage that finally solved the impossible mission that was Vancouver’s Thatcher Demko.
This marks the second time in three seasons that Vegas finds itself in the Western Conference Final, while the Stars haven’t seen this kind of action since 2008.
The Stars and Golden Knights have never met in the post-season, but that doesn’t mean it won’t make for a top-tier series. They did clash in this year’s round robin, with Vegas getting the win.
Dallas plays a wide open game, more or less. They’ve allowed more goals than they’ve scored, but this is a team that finds multiple ways to win. Against Colorado, the Stars came from behind numerous times in the series. In Game Seven, they trailed three different times before winning 5-4 in overtime.
The Stars activate their defencemen, with Miro Heiskanen leading the charge. He’s put up 21 points so far this post-season, the most by any defenceman in franchise history. He leads the team in assists, points, and ice time and is second overall in scoring.
Vegas has their own defensive dynamo in Shea Theodore. He loves to shoot the puck and leads his team in that category with 64 in these playoffs. He has 16 points in 15 games and was the only player on his team to score on Demko in the series.
But Vegas is, in many ways, a classic team that rolls four lines and keeps coming at you. They forced the issue with the Canucks, a point illustrated by the fact that they lead all playoff teams in shots. They’re also tops in terms of fewest shots against.
No matter who gets the nod in the crease, this will be a high-scoring series.
Vegas’ Robin Lehner has been stellar but not flawless. Dallas’ Anton Khudobin might be a little worn out after facing a bombardment of Colorado shots, which could lead to more than a few extra openings. The Stars might get some news on Ben Bishop soon, but as of press time it’s not known if he’ll be ready for Game One.
On paper – and on the ice – it looks like Vegas has the advantage. They like to tilt the ice and push play in the offensive zone, with a hard forecheck and lots of big bodies to throw around. The Stars counter with active defence, but their offence is still sporadic – especially from their top line. That could make all the difference and turn this into a quick one.