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NHL Western Conference Final: Golden Knights vs. Stars

The Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars will faceoff in the Western Conference finals for a chance at the Stanley Cup.

Jamie Benn by Lisa Gansky is licensed under CC BY 2.0

NHL Western Conference Final: Golden Knights vs. Stars

Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes

The Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars will faceoff in the Western Conference finals for a chance at the Stanley Cup.

What can we expect from this series? A lot of fierce hockey is definitely at the top of the list. Both of these teams have shown flashes of incredibly aggressive, physical play throughout the playoffs and this style has carried them straight through to the semi-finals. That said, I think a detailed look at the match up will show a pretty clear favorite.

First up: goaltending or the “essential” factor.

From the start, Vegas is a stronger goaltending team. Dallas hasn’t been able to consistently use their number one netminder, Ben Bishop. Plagued by an undisclosed injury, Bishop has only been on the ice for 3 games so far and lost 2 of them.

The responsibility has fallen to back up Anton Khudobin, whose claim to fame is my favorite face mask in the NHL. Khudobin has showed admirably. He’s fended off the Colorado Avalanche and the Calgary Flames. He’s seen almost 450 shots, many more than either Vegas goalie has seen.

That said, his save percentage is lower than his regular-season average. He’s sitting at just .909% versus a normal .930%. Dallas has been allowing more shots on him than in the regular season and that is showing in his numbers. He’s letting in more goals and so Dallas has had to score more. But more on that later. Point being, with Bishop questionable and everything on his shoulders, Khudobin needs to find the consistency he is lacking in a 2.94 average for goals allowed.

Then there is a one of the deepest goalie benches in the playoffs on the Vegas side. Robin Lehner joined Vegas just before the trade deadline and boy has that worked out for them. He took over the starting position after coming from Chicago with no looking back. After .940% in the regular season for Vegas, he’s held relatively steady in the playoffs at .918%. The only goalie still in the playoffs with a lower goals allowed number is Tampa Bay’s Vasilevskiy at 1.91 to Lehner’s 1.99. He’s hot, there is no question about it.

And should all else fail, Lehner’s back up is Stanley Cup Champion Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury has been inconsistent and his few appearances haven’t been his strongest. That said, Fleury has three Stanley Cup entries with his name and has shown himself to be able to remain cool under pressure. Should it come to that, there’s worse options to put between the pipes as a back up than Fleury. And that worst choice for the remaining teams sits on the opposite bench in an injured Ben Bishop.

Defense or a faltering Dallas Squad

Dallas has allowed way too many shots on Khudobin. In the regular season, they allowed the second least goals in the league. Part of that was of course Bishop but with a less seasoned goalie in the net, it has exposed Dallas’s weakness of allowing many, many shots per game. This is a carry over from the regular season where they sat in the bottom half of the league in shots allowed. The most interesting stat is Dallas is the only team left in the playoffs with a negative cumulative plus/minus rating. The team has a -34 for the playoffs. It isn’t a little negative, but a lot. Defensemen like Heiskanen are more interested than their offensive game than the primary function keeping the puck away from the net.

Vegas has allowed relatively few shots by comparison. Lehner has only faced about 300 shots to Khudobin’s almost 450 shots. Shea Theodore and Alec Martinez have been leading the charge to protect the netminder. Shea Theodore has literally set the example by leading the team in blocked shots and shots on goal during this playoff run. Watching him alone is inspiring as he commits his entire body to every single play. Pair that with a defensive core just generally out skating opponents and Dallas is done.

The Fancy Part: The Offense

Vegas started strong and won all three games in the round robin. They did that because they scored 4+ goals every game. They continued that trend of high scoring throughout most of the Blackhawks series. And then they sat for a while waiting for the next round. Vancouver was able to hold off the Vegas scoring just a little bit, enough to force a game seven.

It actually does not bode well for Vegas that Shea Theodore is the second highest scorer on the team from the blue line. They need to wake up the scoring from usual leaders like Karlsson and Stasny if they want to out score they hungry Dallas squad. Vegas’s trick is speed and precision. They favor crisp, long passes and constantly moving the puck from man to man. It is impressive to watch but can get shut down with a few linch pins. Speed can only hold off force for so long.

Dallas is scoring by crashing the net. It’s a very simple, hardworking style of hockey. Joe Pavelski is committing his body to crashing the net often and forcefully, digging goals out with rebounds and strength. Every team has had him in their goalie’s face and that has resulted in a team leading 8 goals and a hat trick. He’s also been a physical force that ends up in the penalty box but the intimidation has positive effects. Radulov is also showing up with three game-winning goals and hat trick of his own. They will dump, chase and ruin your night fast. And after young Joel Kiviranta came out of no where with a hat trick to win game 7, we know they have depth.

The bottom line: I am calling Vegas to take it home.

The offensive play will be exciting in this series. Both teams can score a lot. Both teams are forcing their opponents to make mistakes by what they do best. Vegas can out skate anyone and Dallas will crash every body for a little edge. Where this series will be won and lost is in the penalty box and the goaltending, both of which Vegas has the edge in. Dallas is taking more penalties and more of their leading players are the ones taking those penalties. Vegas’s strong men like Cousins and Reaves are using their bodies to take control and keeping that control. Reaves is suspended for a game, but he will come back hungry to stand up to Dallas. Lehner can stop more and Vegas will shoot a lot of fancy shots. I see Dallas going down.

Sarah Jane, Sarah, or SJ-depending on the source-is a director, educator, theatre artist and now, sports blogger. She lives in Queens with her darling, not-so-sports-fan boyfriend. She played ice hockey growing up for the NJ Quarry Cats and various other teams. Being team captain her last two seasons is the most important achievement of her life to date. She proudly also was about a quarter of the size of her opponents and often led her team in both penalty minutes and enthusiasm. She's a Pittsburgh Penguins and Steelers fan (thanks, Momma!) and a New York Yankees fan (thanks, Poppa?) and was given zero choice on all three of these teams. Other hobbies include reading non-fiction books, cooking, and being spunky. Check in with her for all your greater hockey needs!

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