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Battle in the Trenches: Golden Knights vs. Stars, WCF Preview & Predictions



Jake Oettinger save on Jack Eichel Vegas Golden Knights Dallas Stars (Photo- Vegas Golden Knights via Twitter)

The Western Conference Final is a fitting collision between two of the best teams in the conference. There are no cinderellas or upsets in the West. The Vegas Golden Knights finished with the best record in the West, while the Dallas Stars were a few points behind. They battle for the right to play for the Stanley Cup beginning Friday.

The Golden Knights packed Connor McDavid’s bags and sent him on the redeye in Round Two. The VGK won in six, as McDavid came up short for the eighth consecutive year.

Dallas survived a strong push from the Seattle Kraken. The series went seven games, and Seattle had a chance to tie the game in the waning seconds before Dallas won 2-1.

Game 1 is Friday at T-Mobile Arena. The puck drops just after 5:30 p.m. Instead of being held captive by the ESPN TV schedule, as they were for Game 6 last Sunday, the Golden Knights will host Game 2 at noon, Sunday.

WCF Preview:

The series will be won or lost in the trenches. Which team can win the puck in the corners and below the goal line? Golden Knights Bruce Cassidy gave a master class Tuesday on the coming slobberknocker, which will vastly differ from Edmonton’s more open approach to offense and defending.

“They’ll swarm you early (in a possession). They may try to outnumber you low, five guys or four guys to two or three to choke off those cutbacks,” Cassidy said. “So in this series, we’ll need to support the puck better early for our first touch and then maybe change sides out the other side of the net or walk up from there. (We’re) not going to have a lot of time and space early.”

Dallas likes to swarm the puck immediately.

Good decisions, pushing it to the low zone, and defensive responsibility, especially of the high forward (F3), will be paramount. Turnovers high in the zone and chips that don’t get deep will become Dallas rushes.

Dallas, like the Golden Knights, likes to play on the rush. So, the team that can nullify the other’s rush, force them into mistakes, and win the battles low wins.

However, Dallas might have one advantage that the Vegas Golden Knights do not: Goaltending.

Jake Oettinger is a young and rising star. He started 62 games this season and posted a .919 save percentage. He’s been inconsistent in the playoffs, with only a .903 save percentage. So, the advantage might materialize. It might not.

Adin Hill will be in the net for the Golden Knights. Hill missed practice on Wednesday with a maintenance day. Perhaps he’s not 100% healthy. Jonathan Quick and Jiri Patera are the backup goalies.

Defenseman Alec Martinez also missed practice Wednesday, so the Golden Knights might not have the healthiest defense, either.

Key Matchups:

*Roope Hintz vs. Chandler Stephenson/William Karlsson

The Golden Knights defensive centers clamped down on McDavid at even strength. It was probably the difference in the series. Hintz has 19 points and 10 goals in the playoffs. He’s on fire. Neutralizing Dallas’ top line will go a long way, but Dallas has depth scoring, too.

*Max Domi vs Jack Eichel?

The former Golden Knights forward has become an important cog for the Dallas Stars since they acquired him at the NHL trade deadline. After a solid regular season with 56 points, Domi is nearly a point per game in the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs. He has 11 points (3-8-11) in 13 games. Will Domi have to skate against Jack Eichel, or will DeBoer put third-line center Wyatt Johnson on Eichel?

*Pete DeBoer vs. Bruce Cassidy

It was a joy to watch Cassidy coach in Round Two. He took Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft’s lunch money on pizza day and ate it in front of him. That probably won’t happen in the WCF. DeBoer is a good coach and coached the Golden Knights for three years prior.

Cassidy has similar inside info with assistant John Stevens, so which coach can crack the other’s code first might put a game in the win column for his team.

Western Conference Final Schedule:

Game 1:  May 19, 5:30 p.m. PT. Dallas at Vegas. ESPN.

Game 2: Sunday, May 21, 12 p.m. PT. Dallas at Vegas. ABC, ESPN+.

Game 3: Tuesday, May 23, 5 p.m. PT, Vegas at Dallas. ESPN, ESPN+

Game 4: Thursday, May 25, 5 p.m. PT. Vegas at Dallas. ESPN, ESPN+

*Game 5: Saturday, May 27, 5 p.m. PT. Dallas at Vegas

*Game 6: Monday, May 29, 5 p.m. PT. Vegas at Dallas

Vegas Golden Knights Predictions:

On paper, it’s an even series. Dallas won two of three regular-season games in overtime, so those are also out the window.

The goaltending should favor the Dallas Stars. Should. If it does not, the Golden Knights win this series quickly. The VGK have superior depth scoring and a superior blue line for defending the net.

Dallas will try to get to the net front for tips and deflections, but the Golden Knights’ blue line is built to take away that option.

Just as Edmonton was favored because of top-end talent and a silly good power play, Dallas also gets a lot of love from pundits. Teams that can defend and score do well in the postseason. Seattle was a good opponent for Dallas, but Seattle couldn’t match the Golden Knights’ depth and attack.

And that’s why the Vegas Golden Knights win in 6.

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