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Your Dallas Stars Are Back In The Stanley Cup’s Western Conference Finals For The First Time Since 2008. Can They Topple Vegas And Keep On Advancing?

Your Dallas Stars are in the Western Conference Finals!

Anton Khudobin and the bois Victory Green™’s win over the Colorado Avalanche have put the team in the NHL’s Final Four for the first time since Brendan Morrow carried the Stars on his back in 2008.

Unlike 2008, however, there will be no fans in attendance, no watching party with Jeff K in Victory Plaza, no Nick Lidstrom-led Detroit Red Wings to contend with and no new “Fergalicious” singles from the Black Eyed Peas.

Instead, Stars fans will ruminate online over a stacked team from Las Vegas from the comfy COVID confines of their couches, and to the soundtrack of Billie Eilish. Man, 2020 rules!

Listen: Dallas’ seven-game series against the Avalanche revealed many dimensions of this Stars team, and although the drama-filled round left players and fans alike exhausted, the team is finally rounding into the form that general manager Jim Nill envisioned. Seriously, this is the most resilient hockey we’ve seen from this club in a very long time.

You gotta figure Jamie Benn and company must be feeling pretty good about their game, yeah? Sure. But will it be enough to advance past the lethal Golden Knights?

Let’s check the advantages and investigate!

Offense

Dallas: The Stars continue to manufacture offense throughout this playoff run, receiving goals up and down the lineup at crucial moments of the game. A far cry from the regular season where the Stars were lucky to get to outscore the opposition 2-1, coach Rick Bowness has found enough chemistry among his forwards to keep pace with the high-octane offenses of the Flames and Avalanche throughout these playoffs. Regular season goal leader Dennis Gurianov continues to pace the team with 8 twine-ticklers — tied with the suddenly rejuvenated, and very chippy, Joe Pavelski. Alexander Radulov rounds out the top forward trio of scorers with seven scores of his own — but, much as it did in the regular season, his plays continues to frustrate with unnecessary neutral- and offensive-zone penalties. As good as the Stars’ forwards have been about crashing the net and getting the gritty Hungry, Hungry Hippo goals that are absolutely necessary in the postseason, the team’s offensive boom has largely come in thanks to the brilliance of young Miro Heiskanen. The Stars’ leading point-getter is currently tied for second in the NHL Playoffs (behind only Nathan “NBC” MacKinnon) for most points with 21 through 16 games. That’s right: A second-year defenseman is outscoring all but one other player in the league. Miro is, quite simply, the best player on the Stars — and it’s not even close. Is he already the best defenseman in the league?

Vegas: Oh, you thought holding your breath every time Nathan “Pierre McGuire Wishes He Was My Dad” MacKinnon hit the ice was bad? How ’bout holding your breathe for half the game as Vegas boasts a legit number-one line — and, also, a second line that would rival the top lines of about half of the league. The one-two punch Vegas possesses is unlike anything the Stars have faced so far this postseason. And, rather unfortunately, it turns out you can’t use the FCC to censor two lines. Stars fans hoping to see Tyler Seguin regain his offensive edge in this series will have to settle for their “looks like he’s injured” top center embrace his Ken Hitchcock training and defensively shut down everything Vegas puts on the ice. Our personal favorite forward to watch on the Golden Knights is Mark Stone; the offensively gifted winger is an incredible two-way player whose well-rounded 200-foot play doesn’t go unnoticed among hockey nerds. He will low-key frustrate Stars fans with his innate ability to magically create turnovers and lead a charge up the ice in transition.

Advantage: Vegas. The Stars are a well-balanced 4 line team, but Vegas’ best players are their best players — and highly effective at even strength.

Defense

Dallas: You already know what you’re going to get with the Dallas defense, and although we’ve sent many a profanity-laden text to our friends over Andrej Sekera the last three weeks, his saucer pass from Gretzky’s Office to Joel Kiviranta is easily the best moment of the season so far. With a rotating sixth defenseman in play, Dallas isn’t exactly at full strength on the backend — but we still expect more or less of the same stellar play.

Vegas: While not as deep as their forward group, Vegas boasts a solid top four defenders. This calmly competent group is pretty strong overall, but don’t sleep on Shea Theodore. The former Duck is much better now than what you remember of his early days in Anaheim (if you remember them at all). The 24-year-old has developed into a true No. 1 defenseman with a strong offensive upside. His six-goal, 16-point effort through 15 games this postseason is near the tops among defenders in production, and his minute-chewing, shot-blocking prowess is a big part of the Golden Knights’ success this year.

Advantage: Dallas because Miro.

Goaltending

Dallas: This is Dobby’s crease, folks. Ain’t no doubt about it. The affable and hard-battling Kazakhstan may not be posting the stellar statistics of his regular season to this point, but his competitive and never-say-die attitude has kept the Stars in games that could have easily slipped away. Until Ben Bishop is truly 100 percent healthy and ready to play, we don’t even want to see Big Ben flopping around like a half eaten alligator gar on the ice. Dobby — Forechecking’s NHL Hitz Player of the Year, you no doubt recall — has earned this chance. Let’s see it through, yeah?

Vegas: Similarly to the Stars, The Golden Knights are enduring somewhat of a goalie issue. Vegas’ inaugural season’s hero (and former Stanley Cup champion) Marc Andre Fleury has been supplanted by a trade deadline acquisition in Robin Lehner. Concisely, “streaky” is the most fitting evaluation of the Golden Knights’ goaltending. Current starter Lehner has dazzled his way through several starts, earning three shutouts in some light-duty contests against an over-matched Vancouver Canucks squad. But he’s also susceptible to game-losing implosions. And then there’s Fleury, who is healthy and eager to return to the crease. He’s always been a hot-or-cold netminder, and his very limited contributions to Vegas’ postseason has us wondering how much confidence coach Pete Deboer has in the iPhone 11-hawking veteran.

Advantage: Push! Dobby isn’t gonna be shutting Vegas out, and Lehner/Fleury won’t be able to handle the Cory Perry/Jamie Benn/Radek Faksa net-crash so well.

X-Factor

We see this tightly contested series coming down to two key underappreciated and un-sexy events: faceoffs and shifts after a goal. Dallas is one of the league’s best at the offensive zone faceoff set play and, anecdotally, one of worst at allowing the opposition to immediately score after they do. If Dallas can follow up their goals with another strong shift, they should be successful at maintaining momentum.

Prediction: We publicly nailed calling the Stars in six over the Flames. We also called Stars in seven over the Avs in round two privately (NHL scheduling ducked us over on publication). So we”re feeling pretty good about our predictive prognosis ability these days. Still, while our mind is telling us Vegas in six, our heart is telling us Dallas in seven. So: Dallas in seven.

Go Stars!

Flip it. Stick it. See ya later, bye. — LehtMoJoe

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