With the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs now underway, PHR makes its first foray into playoff series analysis with our 2023 Playoff Primers. Where does each team stand in their series, and what storylines could dominate on and off the ice? Our Conference Finals coverage continues with the Western Conference matchup between the Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs semifinal matchups are set and the Sun Belt franchises will take center stage. While the Carolina Hurricanes will take on the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Final, it will be the Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights facing off to be the western conference champion.
While the Western Conference Final features two teams in non-traditional hockey markets, these are no cinderella squads on an unlikely run. In fact, the Stars and Golden Knights are two powerhouses who will go toe-to-toe in what promises to be an exciting, fast-paced and highly skilled matchup.
The Golden Knights finished atop the Pacific Division standings and were the top ranked team in the entire western conference with a record of 51-22-9 which gave them 111 points. The Stars were not far behind, finishing second in the Central Division with 108 points, just one back of the Colorado Avalanche for top spot in the division.
Regular Season Performance
Vegas: 51-22-9, 111 points, +43 goal differential
Dallas: 47-21-14, 108 points, +67 goal differential
January 16, 2023: Dallas 4, Vegas 0
February 25, 2023: Dallas 3, Vegas 2 (SO)
April 8, 2023: Dallas 2, Vegas 1 (SO)
Dallas takes season series 3-0-0
One question for Vegas is whether or not star winger Mark Stone has another strong series in him. He is clearly dealing with back discomfort and appeared frustrated at times in the postseason as teams targeted him. He remained calm enough to score a pair of goals and four points in six games while playing great defensive hockey as usual. Can he continue to play well throughout the postseason? We shall soon find out.
Speaking of great defensive hockey, one question for the Stars is can they break through the Golden Knights defensive shield at even strength? The Edmonton Oilers could not get anything done at 5-on-5 against the Golden Knights, even with two of the league’s best players on their roster. The Oilers, the NHL’s highest scoring team in the regular season, scored ten goals in the final four games of their series with the Golden Knights, lost three of them and were eliminated.
The Stars have shown they have the depth to score at even strength. In their seven game series victory over the Seattle Kraken, they scored 22 goals at even strength, which is an average of just over three per game.
Will they be able to continue that pace in round three? Joe Pavelski is scoring at will this postseason with eight goals in eight games played. Roope Hintz leads the way for the Stars with 19 points in 13 games. Jason Robertson, Max Domi, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Evgeni Dadonov all have nine or more points in 13 games as well giving the Stars tremendous scoring depth up front.
Flipping back to the Golden Knights, they have plenty of scoring depth of their own. Jack Eichel leads the way with 14 points in 11 games so far in the playoffs. Stone is also over a point per game with 12. Chandler Stephenson, Jonathan Marchessault, Ivan Barbashev, Reilly Smith andWilliam Karlsson all have eight or more points, with scoring coming from each of the team’s top three lines.
Both teams bolster deep blue lines as well. The Golden Knights rely heavily on Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore andAlec Martinez who form a tremendous top three. Nic Hague, Brayden McNabb and Zach Whitecloud round out an extremely deep and talented group of two-way defenders who can chip in with plenty of offense while playing fantastic defensive hockey.
The Stars have a nice mix of veteran savvy and youthful exuberance on the back end. Ryan Suter and Colin Miller may not be as effective as they once were, but they provide a steady defensive presence and leadership qualities. Miro Heiskanen is an elite defenseman who could garner Conn Smythe votes if he keeps playing the way he has so far in the postseason. The 23 year old is joined by 21 year old Thomas Harley, who quickly emerged as a key defender and has seven points in 13 playoff games.
Perhaps the biggest question heading into this series is which goaltender can bounce back the quickest? Neither were spectacular in the second round, but getting hot for the next two weeks would lead their team to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Jake Oettinger started every game for the Stars in their series win over the Kraken, but he had a 3.50 GAA and a .877 save percentage in those seven games. Adin Hill took over from Laurent Brossoit and started the final three games of the series after performing well in relief in Game 2 and 3. He allowed seven goals in his first two starts but then shut the door, stopping 38 of 40 shots to help the Knights advance with a Game 6 win.
Will Oettinger return to form and be the best goalie in the series? Or will Hill use his most recent start as a jumping off point for a great series? The answers to those questions could determine who moves on to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Dallas Stars head coach Peter Deboer is in familiar territory in this series. He was hired as the coach of the Golden Knights in January of 2020 and helped them reach the Western Conference Final where they lost to the… Dallas Stars. This rematch now sees Deboer on the other bench, and he will look to get back at his former team for firing him.
Two deep teams with no weaknesses that jump out at you will lead to a long series. Both teams have deep blue lines, both teams will get scoring from up and down their lineup, both teams can defend well and play a physical style of hockey.
Also important at this time of year is both teams have remained quite healthy. Everyone is dealing with bumps and bruises but there are no long-term injuries to star players on either lineup right now. That makes the margin for error quite slim on either side.
When it all boils down, goaltending could be the difference, and Oettinger seems to be the more likely choice to have a strong seven game series. That could give the slightest of edges to the Stars in a series that promises to be a long and memorable one.
Prediction: Stars win in seven games.