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Western Conference Final is a Series of Opportunities

The Vegas Golden Knights have the Dallas Stars on the ropes. The Golden Knights jumped out to a 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference Finals, grabbing a 4-0 victory in Game 3. Vegas will play Thursday night for the chance to advance to their first Stanley Cup final since their magical run in the 2018 Playoffs. The Stars will want to hold onto their Stanley Cup hopes after a disappointing Game 3. It’s been a tale of opportunity so far between the Golden Knights vs Stars. Vegas is making the most of it. 

Opportunity the Difference In Golden Knights vs Stars Series

Timely Saves 

Coming into the series, no one expected the Stars to pull their goalie first. Scott Wedgewood replaced Jake Oettinger just 7:10 into Game 3. Oettinger gave up three goals on five shots in the first seven minutes in his worst performance of the playoffs. Oettinger has had success in the playoffs in the past, posting a .954 save percentage in the 2021-22 run. However, he’s been more inconsistent this year, with a 3.02 GAA and a .895 percentage. Oettinger being relieved set off a chain reaction for the Stars, who lost all of the composure that had become their trademark. Oettinger and Dallas looked unsettled, unable to find any part of their game. If Oettinger can find his game, then Dallas still has a fighting chance. 

On the other hand, Adin Hill has been exceeding expectations in the blue paint for Vegas. He’s 6-1 in the playoffs so far, with a .940 save percentage and a 1.96 GAA. He had a 34-shot shutout in Game 3 and has been critical to the Golden Knights’ success. Hill has been making a lot of saves, but he’s also been making timely ones. Right before Chandler Stephenson’s overtime goal in Game 2, Hill made a point-blank save on Wyatt Johnston. Stephenson scored 40 seconds later, giving Vegas the 2-0 lead in the series. Hill had another massive save in Game 3, stopping a 2-on-1 shorthanded opportunity and setting up Ivan Barbashev’s goal to put Vegas up by 2. 

In a lot of ways, the goaltenders set the tone. They are the only players on the ice for the entirety of the game. If your goaltender is calm and confident, that extends across the ice. The mentality is important, especially when teams are so close to the top of the mountain. That became evident as the game progressed, with Jamie Benn and Max Domi taking misconduct penalties and Dallas fans throwing trash onto the ice. 

Opportunistic Play 

Despite the showing in Game 3, this series has been close. Both Game 1 and Game 2 required overtime, and the shot totals in those first two games differed by only five. However, the difference has been in the details. Vegas has converted on about 60% of their high-danger chances throughout the playoffs. Through three games against Dallas, they’re scoring on high-danger chances at a 67% clip. At 5v5, that number jumps to 83%. In comparison, Dallas has a 52% HDGF% during the playoffs but is only scoring 33% against Vegas. 

Vegas is taking advantage of their opportunities, scoring more when they have better chances. Even when they’re not generating as many chances, they can score. In Game 3, Vegas had 16 shots on goal the entire game but scored four goals. The Stars had 34 shots and were held scoreless. Vegas’ ability to find the back of the net when given the opportunity has made the difference in the series so far. 

Playoff Jack Eichel 

When Vegas made the big move to trade for Jack Eichel, many thought it would be a mistake. Eichel is now 14 games into his playoff career and he’s proving that he can handle the game under the bright lights. While he hasn’t scored during the Dallas series, his impact has been undeniable. Eichel has two assists, including a no-look, behind-the-back pass to Jonathan Marchessault for the tying goal in Game 2. He’s been on the ice for 47% of Vegas’s shots during the series and has been a deciding factor on defence. He’s been effective on the backcheck and has been able to get his stick into passing lanes, causing turnovers and chances for Vegas. 

Eichel’s two-way game has been exemplary. It’s exactly the system that Bruce Cassidy wants his players to execute. He’s been able to find his chances up front and then extend the chance with an acute defensive awareness and ability. He’s outplaying Dallas’ top players and making opportunities where there weren’t any. 

Looking Ahead 

The Golden Knights vs Stars series will be back in just a few days. Vegas is one win away from a Stanley Cup Final appearance, and unless Dallas can keep their heads on straight, it won’t be that difficult. The Stars have played good, clean hockey for the season, and will need to revert back to what works for them to keep their dreams alive.

Main Photo: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports


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