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Western Conference Finals preview: Vegas Golden Knights vs. Dallas Stars predictions, key matchups

The Vegas Golden Knights were the first team in the Western Conference to advance to the final four, eliminating the Edmonton Oilers in six games. The Golden Knights are about to play in their fourth conference final, just six years after joining the league as an expansion club, with a second trip to the Stanley Cup Final at stake,

Meanwhile, the Stars are back in the final four for the sixth time since relocating from Minnesota in 1993 and are currently 3-2 in this round, advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999, 2000, and 2020. Even though the franchise record book dates back to 1967, they were 2-2 as the North Stars, never winning a championship until 1999 when Dallas beat the Buffalo Sabres.

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As the top two teams remaining in their conference, each club took completely different paths to this point of the bracket. Therefore, they should provide fans with an exciting possible seven-game series.  

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Western Conference Finals series notes

The Golden Knights lost their starting goalie, Laurent Brossoit, during the Oilers series, asking Adin Hill to step in and save the day. Despite never playing a single minute in the postseason, he did pretty well in five games, giving up just nine goals to the league’s top scorers, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and company. 

He produced a .934 save percentage for the series, including a shutout in Game 2 to calm his teammates’ nerves. If the Golden Knights punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final, Hill will be a significant reason, acting like the team’s number one instead of future Hall of Famer Jonathan Quick. Until now, Quick has not played a minute in the postseason. 

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Meanwhile, the Stars continue their quest for another championship by eliminating a Seattle Kraken team who became one of the league’s feel-good stories. Ultimately, Dallas had numerous opportunities to strike the knockout blow but missed their chances, and part of that lies on the shoulders of Jake Oettinger. As the Stars’ best goalie in years, he had some questionable moments in round two, which cost his team.

If the Stars still consider themselves legit contenders, they will need Oettinger to be their most valuable player in this series. Even though the Stars are the highest-scoring team left in the playoffs, with 47 goals, one of the strongest aspects of their team has been goaltending. Realistically, the Golden Knights will not shy away from racking up points, with 22 goals in their second-round matchup, showcasing their ability to run and gun with the best teams in the league. 

Key matchups for Vegas Golden Knights vs Dallas Stars

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Seattle Kraken at Dallas Stars
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of the goaltender duel between Hill and Oettinger, another critical matchup to watch in the third round will be between the Stars’ Roope Hintz, sitting second in playoff scoring with 19 points, and the Golden Knights’ Jack Eichel who just registered nine points in the Oilers series.

After all the drama associated with Eichel’s departure from the Sabres, many wondered if the second-overall pick in the 2015 draft (behind McDavid) would ever live up to expectations. During his first season in Vegas, he led the team in scoring and now is doing it again in the playoffs, playing some of the best hockey of his professional career.

Meanwhile, Hintz exploded out of the gate in the opening round to collect 11 points against the Wild before coming alive again at the tail end of the Kraken series, to inch closer to the playoff scoring title. As one of the front runners for the Conn Smythe, if the Stars win, he will look to keep the momentum rolling in the conference final.

Additionally, each team features an abundance of secondary scoring, like the Stars’ Jason Robertson, who had 109 points during the regular season and has 12 through 13 playoff games so far. Furthermore, Joe Pavelski scored eight goals against the Kraken, including a four-goal game, setting a handful of NHL records in the process.

Regarding the Golden Knights, their captain Mark Stone returned from a season-long injury with 12 points, while Chanlder Stephenson and Jonathan Marchessault each have ten points. Also, in Game 6, Marchessault became one of the few players in league history to score a natural hat trick in a single period during the playoffs.

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Overall, the goalies will decide this series and which team’s superstars can continue to produce or find themselves in a slump at the worst possible time. 

Vegas Golden Knights vs Dallas Stars series history

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Dallas Stars
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

According to statistics from NHL.com, the Golden Knights and Stars have played 14 regular season contests together, with Vegas holding a commanding lead, 8-3-3, for 19 out of a possible 24 points. Unsurprisingly, they also hold a slim lead on the scoreboard, outscoring Dallas 35-32, good enough for 2.50 goals per game and 2.29 goals against per game. 

Historically, this will mark the second time these two franchises meet in three seasons in the Western Conference Final, with the Stars winning in 2020. Ultimately, it was a short series since Dallas won in five games; however, each team collected a shutout, and two of the games required overtime. 

After six contests on home ice at T-Mobile Arena, the Golden Knights are 3-2-1 against the Stars. However, while on the road at American Airlines Arena, they are an impressive 5-1-2, owning Dallas in their building. Moreover, as the higher seed, Vegas earned home-ice advantage for the series, hosting Games 1 and 2, with the possibility of Game 5 and Game 7, if need be.

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