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Hockey

The Stars and Golden Knights Meet Again

Catching the Stanley Cup champs early might work out for the Stars.
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Mark Stone, the Knights' captain, returns from a spleen injury just in time for the playoffs. Photo by Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, I asked Stars general manager Jim Nill about the Vegas Golden Knights, about the defending Stanley Cup champions and how they’ve used long-term injured reserve more aggressively than any other NHL team. 

For a quick refresher, Vegas played a majority of the season without its captain, Mark Stone, and used the long-term injured reserve to bolster itself at the deadline. Stone, who had a lacerated spleen, started practicing this week and is expected to make his return for the playoffs. 

“I’ve got no issues. They didn’t break any rules,” Nill said. “The guy got injured and had a spleen injury. It’s not any different than us, and if we had something similar, we’d do the same thing. So they aren’t doing anything wrong, and, really, in the end, the games are won on the ice.

“They did what they had to do. I don’t blame them. In the end, they’re a good team, and whoever we play in the playoffs, whether it’s them or someone else, it’ll be a good team.”

And now the teams will face off again.

In a rematch of the 2023 Western Conference Finals, the Stars and Golden Knights will meet in the first round of a seven-game series that starts Monday in Dallas. It’s the best team in the West from the regular season versus the defending champions, who are adding reinforcements. It’s as juicy of a matchup as you can get right off the bat. 

I may be in the minority on this, but I think it’s the best possible time for Dallas to get Vegas. Hear me out. 

For the Stars to win the whole thing—and that’s the goal here—they were most likely going to have to face Vegas eventually. The Golden Knights are the toughest stylistic matchup for the Stars. The big bruising forecheck and rigid boxy defensive system counter the Stars well, as we saw in the Western Conference Finals. 

I don’t think any other team in the Western Conference could take out Vegas in the first two rounds. In my mind, the Golden Knights would be favorites against any of the top three teams in the Pacific Division, meaning the Vegas machine would have two chances to catch fire before a conference final meeting with Dallas. 

Would you rather face Vegas once it has worked out the kinks or early on while the connections still have to be made?

Because that’s the other thing about Vegas. It’s a great team on paper, but we’ve never seen that team at full strength. Stone is a bona fide difference maker; so are Tomas Hertl and Noah Hanifin. They’ll figure it out, for sure, but they might not figure it out in time to beat the Stars. Add in the fact that Vegas has been middling down the stretch, just 6-4 in its last 10, and Dallas has been humming; the Stars are the team any opponent would want to avoid. 

The Golden Knights are like the boogeyman. The past stories are frightening, but we’ve yet to see them bully anyone this season. Dallas is the monster right now. 

From Game 1 of the regular season, the Stars have been the NHL’s most consistent team offensively. It’s a deep group, with eight 20-goal scorers and three more with double-digit goals. Then there’s Logan Stankoven, who has six tallies in just 24 games. 

If there was a flaw in the Stars, it was their inability to protect the net. Then they added Chris Tanev at the trade deadline. The shot attempts against have dropped, and Jake Oettinger has gone back to his all-world form. 

Just rewatch the Wednesday regular-season finale against the St. Louis Blues. Oettinger is playing like a world beater; he’s also fresher going into the postseason than he was last year, when he hit a wall against Vegas. 

The Western Conference gauntlet is as advertised, and this series figures to be a battle. The Stars could lose to the Golden Knights, which would make for a quick and disappointing end to what has been a glorious season. But it also could be exactly the building block Dallas needs, especially if it exorcizes the demons from last spring.

Author

Sean Shapiro

Sean Shapiro

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Sean Shapiro covers the Stars for StrongSide. He is a national NHL reporter and writer who previously covered the Dallas…
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