There hasn’t been a second round full of excitement, comebacks, scoring and Game 7’s in a while. While Nathan MacKinnon, Michael Hutchinson, Quinn Hughes and Thatcher Demko stole the show in both of the Western Conference series, they couldn’t get their teams to the next round. Colorado and Vancouver shouldn’t feel too bad though. They both will return and be better than ever in the upcoming years.
Dallas and Vegas though, their time is now. Jamie Benn is finally awarded after all these years, finally playing in a conference finals series. Robin Lehner is the undisputed starter Vegas has in net, a year after being bounced out of New York. Both Rick Bowness and Peter DeBoer will have their hands full with the other’s vast roster depth. So who will win this series? Time to break it down
#Vegas Golden Knights v. #3 Dallas Stars
Both teams got off to 3-1 starts last round, sputtered in games 5 and 6, then showed up when it mattered most in their respective seventh games. There are takeaways both teams can use against each other though. For Vegas, Anton Khudobin probably won’t have any rest, which is big considering Ben Bishop hasn’t looked right his whole time in the bubble. If they take his eyes away from the puck, start fast and play hard, physical defense, Dallas could wear down the more the series goes on. Hitting Dallas in the mouth out of the gate is something the Avalanche did half the series, and took most of their games doing it. Vegas doesn’t have two injured goaltenders either.
For Dallas, giving Khudobin a clear line of sight will keep them in their series, but they can’t take easy penalties, even if things aren’t going their way. Getting their depth scoring past the first two lines will be important. Vegas can score and hit on any and every line, so Dallas has to parry with theirs and play smarter. Vegas won’t be easy to wear out either, as their persistence got past the white hot Thatcher Demko twice. Dallas has to win this series up front, in numbers, and on the power-play.
Key Matchup of this Conference Finals: Peter DeBoer v. Rick Bowness
Despite how controversial Pierre McGuire has been in recent years, his analysis on Dallas’ lines perked ears up. Last year Stars coach Jim Montgomery broke up the Benn-Seguin-Radulov line to give the St. Louis Blues a harder time. Rick Bowness will have to pull every trick out to beat Vegas early and keep their lead. It may be best to divide that said trio and make Vegas uncomfortable by having Joe Pavelski and either Corey Perry or Blake Comeau play with Jamie Benn on the top line, while having Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin play with Andrew Cogliano on the second. Despite the depth the Golden Knights have, this could cause some chaos with how they’ll counter Dallas and even make a push a few games into the series. This is another reason why the power play will be critical especially for Dallas, because if those three players are on the ice only this amount of time together, they’ll have to make the most of it.
Peter DeBoer should feel confident with how his message resonated with the locker room the last game versus Vancouver. A brilliant offensive mind, DeBoer must find ways to break through the tough Dallas defense while making sure games don’t become high scoring on both ends. He has to make sure his team doesn’t fall into the problems both Calgary and Colorado did when it came to the Stars’ power play, and has to emphasize that with the possibility of line changeups happening early on, the defense has to play as good as they did in their final game with the Canucks.
Prediction and Why: Vegas Golden Knights win series 4-2. Khudobin playing with the possibility of no rest and no good backup with Bishop unavailable could be Dallas’ undoing and key once the series extends past four games. Watch for Vegas to dominate tempo in a lot of these games and to evolve faster during this conference championship.
Western Conference First Round Playoff Predictions Record: 2-2