What a fun end to the second round. The best two teams in the west made it to the conference finals. Vegas dominated a hyped Oilers team the longer the series went and made the most of their special teams opportunities. Bruce Cassidy is proving why he was the best coaching hire this season and how bad Boston botched his firing. The original core on the Knights have been the difference makers on offense while goaltending has been smooth no matter who starts. Then there’s Peter DeBoer, who led Vegas to the conference finals in 2020 against the team he’s now coaching. This time there’s no bubble and fans can see the best series of the conference finals in person. In what could be a last gasp attempt to win and hold the Stanley Cup, Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski and Tyler Seguin have to go all out in a chess-match of a series. Both teams have their hands full, and many believe whoever wins this series has a great chance to win the championship. Time to break down who has the best shot to win the western conference and advance to the Stanley Cup finals.
#5 Dallas Stars v. #1 Vegas Golden Knights
There’s poetry knowing the Stars and Golden Knights face each other in another conference finals matchup. Nobody thought these two teams would have a rivalry when Vegas played Dallas in their first regular season game in 2017. It’s likely one of these rosters goes through a re-build after next season, so this is a must-win for both franchises.
The Golden Knights haven’t played goaltender Jonathan Quick and won’t specify on why. Regardless, coach Cassidy has correctly chosen who to start in net each series. Quick will be backup to Adin Hill when the series starts tonight, so there’s a high possibility we see him play some point this conference finals.
The goaltending topic hasn’t mattered much when Jonathan Marchessault, Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, and Vegas’ depth on defense shot-blocks and scores at will. Eichel plays like this could be his only chance to win a championship despite being in the league for six years. Cup winning teammates Alec Martinez, Alex Pietrangelo and Ivan Barbashev set the tone early with their physical play and clogging the middle of the ice.
This is the first series the Golden Knights will face a team matching their physical presence. Stars captain Jamie Benn’s enforces his will and takes a fair number of penalties to set the tone. While Benn targets opposing defenders, Joe Pavelski’s had the best playoff run of his career at 38. He’s surpassed both Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby for most goals in the postseason for a current player. His puck passing combined with the play of Roope Hintz and Miro Heiskanen will often test the Vegas defense.
In what could be the last deep postseason run for either team with the current core players, the determining factor is depth. Dallas only has four centers with five forwards on each end, and barely eight eligible defensemen. The Golden Knights have more depth to work with, dwarfing the number of players Dallas has in each position. Factor in Cassidy being the better coach and Vegas being the more rested after ending their series earlier, the Stars face an uphill battle once the series settles in every other day.
Prediction: Golden Knights win the western conference and the series 4-1
Western conference playoff predictions after two rounds: 5-1