Imagine dominating a series and feeling lucky to advance. The Vegas Golden Knights are in that position because Thatcher Demko took over for Jacob Markstrom and became a cross between Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur. It was nearly enough for the Vancouver Canucks to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win the series, but Vegas prevailed 2-0 in Game 7 with a heroic save from their own Robin Lehner as one of the main highlights.
The Dallas Stars aren’t going to feel bad about keeping everybody from the Vegas vs. Colorado series that was basically written in Sharpie to be the Western Conference Final. The Stars have overcome a goaltender injury and a regular season’s worth of lackluster offense to come alive at the right time and return to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2008 thanks to their own seven-game series win.
Game 1 is on Sunday night, so it’s a good time to break down Stars vs. Golden Knights.
Game 1: Sun, Sep 6 DAL@VGK 8:00 PM ET
Game 2: Tue, Sep 8 DAL@VGK 8:00 PM ET
Game 3: Thu, Sep 10 VGK@DAL 8:00 PM ET
Game 4: Sat, Sep 12 VGK@DAL 8:00 PM ET
Game 5*: Mon, Sep 14 DAL@VGK 8:00 PM ET
Game 6*: Wed, Sep 16 VGK@DAL 8:00 PM ET
Game 7*: Fri, Sep 18 DAL@VGK 9:00 PM ET
Series Odds from BetOnline Sportsbook
Dallas Stars +205
Vegas Golden Knights -245
I can’t help but to keep coming back to the same point about the Dallas Stars from the regular season. They scored 108 5-v-5 goals. Only the Detroit Red Wings scored fewer and Dallas was 10 behind the Los Angeles Kings for third place. And, yet, here they are, having scored 49 goals in their two playoff series. In fairness, 14 goals have been scored on the power play, but they’ve scored 31 goals in 13 games at 5-v-5. Only the Colorado Avalanche have scored more and they did a lot of that damage against an overmatched Arizona Coyotes squad.
The Stars have found their offensive stride. Have they gotten lucky? Yeah, maybe a little, as they only have one more high-danger chance than the opposition through two rounds, but they’ve still found way to maximize the goals that they have scored and find themselves one step away from the Stanley Cup Finals.
It is a giant step and one that will require a much better effort in the defensive zone. The Stars have allowed 107 high-danger chances. Only Vancouver and Philadelphia have allowed more and both of those teams are out. In terms of generating high-danger chances, the Golden Knights are second with 140 and they’ve had 60 more of those than their opponents.
The question for Dallas will be whether or not they should try to tighten back up and play the defensive style that carried them through the regular season or if they should attempt to go score-for-score with Vegas. If they do that, it will be a big ask of Anton Khudobin. Since Ben Bishop was deemed unfit to play after Game 1 against the Flames, Khudobin has been the guy between the pipes. He has a .909 SV% and a 2.94 GAA. That won’t get it done against Vegas. He’ll have to be better.
Vegas Golden Knights
Vegas will be without professional pest Ryan Reaves in Game 1, which could throw a wrench in what Peter DeBoer created in the series against Vancouver. The Golden Knights believe in their depth and they’ve had no qualms about rolling four lines and keeping the pressure on the opposition. They dominated the Canucks in that last series and nearly fell victim to Thatcher Demko’s out-of-body experience.
The fact of the matter is that Vegas has 80 more high-danger chances than the opposition through two series. They have 346 scoring chances and 208 allowed. Sure, they’ve played the Blackhawks and the Canucks, two teams that they could completely overwhelm, but they can do the same to Dallas, too. The Stars have 16 more scoring chances 5-v-5 than their opponents through two playoff series, but have only outscored them 31-29. Vegas is +9 at 5-v-5, but should be +14 or +15 per expected goals.
The story of Vegas being snakebitten is a carryover from the regular season. They were 10th in goals scored 5-v-5, but first in xGF in that situation, so they didn’t finish enough of their chances then and it nearly cost them now. But, they’ve survived and advanced and are heavy favorites to advance again.
Robin Lehner has a .918 SV% with a 0.68 goals saved above average. He’s had some issues here and there in the playoffs. He still has a 1.99 GAA, which is what everybody will look at, but the opposition hasn’t had a ton of chances against him. Lehner needs to be more consistent as the playoffs move along, but he is a better goaltender than Khudobin and Vegas has advantages all over the ice.
Vegas in 5.
The Golden Knights have too many weapons, too much speed, and too much puck possession. Dallas was not a great puck possession team in the regular season and has not been great in the playoffs either. They’ve just cashed in their chances with a 28.3% success rate on the power play. Vegas has the second-best penalty kill among teams that have played at least 10 playoff games. Dallas needs Khudobin to play like Demko and maybe even better to pull the upset and that just won’t happen.