While they both needed seven games to get to this point — despite being up 3-1 in their respective series — these teams were widely expected to be in the Western Conference finals.
Dallas needed overtime and an unlikely hero against the Avalanche to make its first conference final appearance since 2008. That team, by the way, had Hall of Famers Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov in its ranks. Game 7 belonged to rookie Joel Kiviranta — a 24-year-old who had only played 11 NHL regular season games and two bubble games — and his hat trick.
“We had a secret Finnish weapon over here,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn regarding Kiviranta next to him during a video news conference with reporters.
Stars vs. Avalanche Game 7: Joel Kiviranta completes hat trick in OT, sends Dallas to WCF
Oh, and by the way, don’t worry Joel, head coach Rick Bowness confirmed you’ll be in the lineup for Game 1.
As for the Golden Knights, things were tight in their Game 7 with the Canucks — on the scoreboard at least. Vegas dominated play throughout but Thatcher Demko was once again masterful in net. He stymied the Vegas offense until almost 14 minutes into the third period when Shea Theodore finally broke through on the power play.
Canucks vs. Golden Knights Game 7: Robin Lehner posts third shutout of series, Vegas moves on to WCF
“I need a drink after the last three games before I think about Dallas,” head coach Pete DeBoer said after his team moved on.
Well, there’s no time like the present.
(1) Vegas Golden Knights vs. (3) Dallas Stars: Schedule, breakdown, prediction
Regular season series
Back when these teams met during the regular season, which feels like 100 years ago, they had different head coaches and different goalies in net (Malcolm Subban for Vegas prior to his trade to Chicago and Ben Bishop for Dallas, who has been unfit to play for most of the postseason).
Bishop did play the round robin game but it was Robin Lehner in between the pipes for the Golden Knights. Lehner has been masterful in the postseason and is coming off three shutouts in six starts — including Game 7 — against the Canucks.
In that lone August meeting before the Stanley Cup playoffs officially began, Vegas roared back from a 3-1 deficit after two periods to win.
“We really didn’t have anybody who was very good in the first 40 minutes,” DeBoer said after his team scored four in the final frame.
“I think we just let them come at us,” noted Stars forward Jason Dickinson said. “We didn’t take ownership of the game, and it was obviously an embarrassing third period that we don’t want to repeat. But it’s something we can learn from.”
Round robin game
Both teams bring some offensive fire power to the ice but Vegas has been running rampant offensively since the postseason began (first and second rounds). According to Natural Stat Trick, they’ve posted NHL-bests at 5v5 in Corsi For percentage (61.09), Fenwick For percentage (63.07) and Scoring Chances percentage (62.45). By comparison, Dallas has a 49.45 CF%, 50.89 FF% and 51.57 SCF%.
But here’s the thing: Dallas has scored 3.77 GF/GP while Vegas has scored 2.83 in the first two rounds; obviously, the one big difference is the goals against but we’ll get to that in a moment. Also a key for Dallas: the team was only averaging 2.58 GF/GP and were 29th with just 179 goals in the regular season, so that’s a big difference.
The big question for Dallas is, can they get regular season point leader Tyler Seguin going? He and captain Jamie Benn sat for long stretches in Game 7 and Seguin only has two goals and five assists in 13 games. On the flip side, the one thing head coach Rick Bowness has been getting is balanced scoring as defenseman Miro Heiskanen (17 points), second-line winger Denis Gurianov (15 points, 10 at even strength) and first-line winger Alexander Radulov who scored two of his seven goals in Game 7.
Vegas has also seen scoring up and down its lineup as defenseman Shea Theodore leads the team in scoring with 12 points (eight at even strength) followed by Reilly Smith (11 points) and Mark Stone (10 points). Max Pacioretty and Alex Tuch both have potted five goals apiece. Of note, Tuch only tucked in eight goals in 42 regular season games.
Vegas’ defense has been superb, and that’s obviously due in large part to the goaltending of Robin Lehner. As previously stated, he shutout the Canucks three times in six starts. They did provide quality chances to Vancouver, especially as the team mounted their comeback and through two rounds, the team has the third-worst High-Danger Save Percentage (78.33). It’s something to keep an eye on, although let’s be honest, Lehner has been spectacular.
And Mark Stone is a defensive genius.
As for Dallas, well they certainly allowed a whole lotta goals to the Avalanche — and 56 (NHL tops) in the postseason. While they won a bunch of games 1-0 or 2-1 during the regular season, this is a different team now. They allowed 4.14 GA/GP, which won’t work against a Vegas team that only allowed 2.00 GA/GP to the Canucks and a just 35 goals across the postseason.
Have we mentioned yet how fantastic Robin Lehner has been between the pipes for Vegas? He’s been so masterful in net that he’s kept three-time Marc-Andre Fleury primarily on the sidelines.
In 10 starts between the Blackhawks and Canucks series’, he’s posted a .922 save percentage, 1.80 goals-against average and three shutouts while stopping 213 of 231 shots.
Across the ice, No. 1 netminder Ben Bishop has been “unfit to play” for the majority of the series and postseason. Anton Khudobin, who posted a .930 save percentage during the regular season, started six of the seven games against Colorado but was on the bench to start Game 5 (with the Stars up 3-1).
“Yesterday, he looked really sharp,” said head coach Rick Bowness after the 6-3 loss as to why he started Bishop. “He felt good. He felt he was ready to go.”
Khudobin was back in net for Game 6 and Game 7 and should be the guy to go in the Western Conference finals. He’s posted a .907 save percentage in 12 games (11 starts) but has a .855 HDSV%, which isn’t great against a Vegas team that likes to swarm the net.
Edge: Lehner, er, Vegas.
Dallas’ special teams showed up in the second round against the Avalanche. They held the high-powered Colorado offense to just 12.5 percent efficiency with the man advantage while also posting 39.1 percent on the power play.
By comparison, Vegas’ penalty kill was slightly higher with 88.9 percent penalty kill but only mustered 21.7 percent on the power play against the Canucks.
Key players to watch
Robin Lehner (VGK): Pretty easy for this one. Lehner has been a star after getting to Vegas in late February and has continued to roll in the postseason.
Alexander Radulov (DAL): The feisty winger has been a sure-thing for the Stars in the postseason as he has seven goals in 16 games (including round robin) including two big-time tying goals (Game 2 vs Flames and Game 7 vs Avs) and three game-winners.
Golden Knights vs. Stars playoff history
This is the first-ever meeting between the two franchises in the postseason.
Last five playoff appearances
Vegas Golden Knights
(1) Golden Knights vs. (3) Stars prediction
The way Robin Lehner and the Vegas offensive is going, plan on the Golden Knights heading to their second Stanley Cup Final in the franchise’s first three seasons.
Prediction: Golden Knights in 6
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