NHL Western Conference Finals Preview 2023: Golden Knights vs. Stars

We have a fantastic Western Conference Championship matchup between the top seed in the West, the Vegas Golden Knights and the Dallas Stars. The Knights advanced after defeating the Jets and the Oilers while the Stars got past the Wild and the Kraken. This series kicks off with Game 1 in Vegas tomorrow night.

The Stars swept the regular season series between these teams with Vegas going 0-1-2 in those games as Dallas won in a shutout and then two shootouts. The Stars won the first game with a 4-0 shutout on the road in Vegas on January 16th, they won 3-2 in a shootout on February 25th on the road again, and then won 2-1 in the last regular season game between them at home in Dallas on April 8th.

After missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season, the Golden Knights bounced back this year, quietly finishing the regular season as the top seed in the West with a 51-22-9 record, a point ahead of the Oilers. They closed out the regular season hot, on an eight game point streak with a great 24-4-5 record in their last 33 games. They finished first in the West despite not being top ten in goals for, goals against, power play, penalty kill, shots for, or shots against and that was without one of their best players, Mark Stone in the lineup for more than half of the regular season. This team just knows how to win. Playoff hockey in Vegas is electric and T-Mobile Arena is going to be rocking.

Vegas has had success on both ends of the ice. They’ve scored an average of 3.26 goals per game, the 14th-most in the NHL, on an average of 31.5 shots per game. They’ve generated the 16th-most expected goals (3.18 per game) and the tenth-most high-danger shots in the league. The Knights have scored on 20.3% of their power play opportunities. They’re led in scoring by Jack Eichel (66 points), Jonathan Marchessault (28 goals), and Chandler Stephenson (48 assists). Eichel has played in 476 regular season games in the NHL and tonight he will finally start in the first playoff game of his career. Vegas also announced a huge addition to their lineup this week, activating captain Mark Stone from the long-term IR, with the salary cap no longer existing in the playoffs.

The Golden Knights have allowed just the eleventh-fewest goals in the NHL, an average of 2.74 goals per game on an average of 30.9 shots allowed per game. They’ve given up the fifth-fewest expected goals (2.85 per game) and the sixth-fewest high-danger shots. Vegas has killed off 77.6% of their penalties. That didn’t come into play a whole lot though, as they were the least penalized team in the NHL in the regular season. The starter these playoffs for the Knights has been Laurent Brossoit, who in his return from injury late in the season started seven of the last ten games for Vegas. In his limited starts this year he hasn’t lost in regulation, with a 7-0-3 record, a 2.17 GAA, and a .927 save percentage. Brossoit is 2-2 in his six appearances against the Oilers, with a .922 save percentage and a 2.14 GAA in those games. Backing him up is veteran Jonathan Quick, acquired at the trade deadline from LA by way of Columbus. This season he has a 16-15–6 record, a 3.41 GAA, a .882 save percentage, and two shutouts during his time with both the Kings and the Knights.

The first round series for Vegas was the only one of the first round to not go at least six games, as they eliminated the Jets in five games. Vegas was pretty terrible in Game 1 at home in the Fortress on Tuesday night, shocking me with a 5-1 blowout loss at home to the Jets. They generated their fewest shots on goal all season (thankfully Eichel hit his 2.5 prop though), getting outshot 31-17 and outplayed by an expected goal rate of 3.7-2.02. Just a terrible game for the Knights, especially offensively. They bounced back in a huge way though to win the next four games in a row to win the series. In Game 2, Vegas answered back in a big way winning 5-2 at home, and outshooting the Jets 39-33. Although Winnipeg outplayed the Knights by an expected goal rate of 3.26-3.14, Mark Stone’s two third-period goals led to a Vegas win and a tied series. In Game 3, the Golden Knights took their first lead of this series, going up 2-1 with their second win in a row, beating the Jets 5-4 in overtime on the road. After blowing a 4-1 lead heading into the third period, and giving up the game-tying goal with just 22 seconds left in regulation, Vegas won 3:40 into the second overtime period on a goal from Michael Amadio. The Knights outshot Winnipeg 48-34 and outplayed the Jets by an expected goal rate of 4.32-3.04. The Golden Knights got this series back on track in Game 2, bouncing back from their Game 1 loss and then took the series lead on Saturday night in Game 3 in Winnipeg with a win on the road. That should not have been as close as the score indicated as they were the much better team and blew a 4-1 lead in the third period, but still managed to get the win. Vegas won Game 4, 4-2 in Winnipeg outshooting the Jets 30-26 and slightly outplaying them by an expected goal rate of 2.21-2.11. They closed out the series with a 4-1 win in Game 5 at home, outplaying the Jets by an expected goal rate of 4.7-3.36.

In the second round, the Golden Knights took down Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the two best hockey players in the world and the Edmonton Oilers in six games, dominating 5-on-5 play. In Game 1 in the fortress, Vegas got a huge 6-4 win to start off the series. The Knights outshot the Oilers 34-27 but for the game Edmonton slightly outplayed Vegas by an expected goal rate of 3.22-3.1. Vegas absolutely dominated 5-on-5, and although by the advanced statistics it was only by an expected goal rate of 2.11-1.64, they were the way better team. The Knights took all the momentum out of the Oilers offense, answering back from two of Edmonton’s goals within a minute. The Oilers got held without a shot for 12 minutes at one point, but they still scored four goals, despite their bottom 9 forwards only having just 12 combined shots all game with Leon Draisaitl scoring all four of Edmonton’s goals. In Game 2, the Oilers answered back in a huge way on Saturday night, winning 5-1 on the road in Vegas. They of course, were lead by none other than Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who each scored twice (along with an assist for McJesus). Edmonton outshot the Knights 36-31 and outplayed them by an expected goal rate of 4.38-3.07. In Game 3 as the series shifted to Edmonton, the Golden Knights took back home ice advantage, dominating with a 5-1 victory on the road. Led by Jack Eichel (1 goal, 2 assists) and Jonathan Marchessault (2 goals), they were the far better team, outshooting the Oilers 33-28 and outplaying them by an expected goal rate of 3.61-2.29. Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, the two best players in the world right now were completely held off the score sheet. The Oilers scored 2:45 into the game to open the scoring and were shut out the remainder of the game. After losing starting goalie Laurent Brossoit to injury 11:44 into the game, Adin Hill came in and had a 24 save performance without giving up even a goal. The Oilers answered right back in Game 4 at home, with a big 4-1 win in a chippy, physical game that saw some dirtbag plays that caused a lot of controversy in the hockey world. That was the first regulation loss on the road for Vegas since early March. They were outshot 33-26 and outplayed by an expected goal rate of 2.99-1.2. In Game 5, the Knights bounced back with a 4-3 win at home to take a 3-2 series lead in the best game of the series. Prior to Game 5, every game was pretty much a blowout. The Knights were outshot 35-31 but outplayed Edmonton by an expected goal rate of 4.2-3.65. It was a game of power play scoring, as five of the seven goals in the game were scored on the power play, and the Oilers were held off the score sheet entirely in 5-on-5 play. Vegas finished off the series with a big 5-2 win in Edmonton in Game 6 to advance to the Western Conference Finals, with all five of their goals scored by original misfits. The Knights were outshot 40-22 and outplayed by an expected goal rate of 4.45-2.93, but found a way to win.

The Golden Knights have been fantastic on both ends of the ice in these playoffs. Of the 16 teams that made the playoffs, Vegas has been the second-highest scoring team (and highest scoring of the four remaining), averaging 3.73 goals per game on an average of 30.5 shots per game. Their power play has struggled a bit, scoring on just 17.5% of their chances, the fifth-fewest of the teams that made the playoffs and the fewest of the four remaining teams. Defensively, the Knights have allowed an average of 3 goals per game, the fifth-fewest of any team that made the playoffs, and the fewest of the teams remaining, on an average of 32.1 shots per game. Their penalty kill has been bad at just 60%, the second-worst of any team that made the playoffs.

The Stars had a very good regular season and were a solid, competitive team throughout the entire year, finishing 47-21-14 in the second seed in the Central, just a point behind the Avalanche. They ended the regular season on fire, on a six-game win streak, picking up at least a point in eleven of their last 13 games and only losing one of their last nine games.

Dallas has played well on both ends of the ice this season. They’ve scored an average of 3.41 goals per game, the seventh-most in the NHL, on an average of 31.9 shots per game. They’ve generated the twelfth-most expected goals (3.33 per game) and the eighth-most high-danger shots in the league. Dallas has been very good on the power play, ranking fifth in the NHL, scoring on 25% of their opportunities. Young star Jason Robertson led them in scoring this year with 109 points, 46 goals, and 63 assists.

The Stars have been very good defensively, allowing just the third-fewest goals in the NHL, an average of 2.62 goals per game on an average of 29.9 shots allowed. They’ve given up the second-fewest expected goals (2.73 per game) and the second-fewest high-danger shots. The Stars have been fantastic on the penalty kill, the third-best in the NHL at 83.5%. Goaltender Jake Oettinger been good this season with a 37-11-11 record, a 2.37 GAA, a .908 save percentage, and five shutouts.

Dallas beat the Minnesota Wild in six games in the first round. At home in Game 1 they lost 3-2 in a very tight game in double overtime. Minnesota outplayed the Stars by an expected goal rate of 4.07-3.76 but were outshot 53-48. The Stars answered back in a huge way in Game 2 with a 7-3 home win, but just slightly outplaying Minnesota by an expected goal rate of 3.13-2.83. For Game 3 with the series shifting to Minnesota, the Wild got their dominant win, winning 5-1 at home. They outshot Dallas 25-24 and outplayed the Stars by an expected goal rate of 2.83-1.93. The Stars answered back to tie the series with a 3-2 win on the road in Game 4. Although they got the win, Dallas was outshot 34-24 by the Wild and outplayed by an expected goal rate of 3.54-3.29. In Game 5, Dallas won in a 4-0 shutout at home on Tuesday night, a great shutout for Jake Oettinger. He made 27 saves as the Stars were outshot 27-25 but they outplayed the Wild by an expected goal rate of 3.02-1.69. The Stars ended the series with a 4-1 win on the road in Minnesota in Game 6, outshooting the Wild 33-24 and dominated Minnesota by an expected goal rate of 4.16-2.88.

In the second round, the Stars took down the Seattle Kraken in a fantastic seven game series. We started the series with a wild Game 1, as the Kraken got up 4-2 early, with Jake Oettinger having his worst period of the playoffs, giving up four goals. After that period, Oettinger didn’t let another goal in, and with an incredible four-goal performance from Joe Pavelski, the Stars tied it up to force overtime. Yanni Gourde ruined the comeback though 12:17 into OT for the 5-4 Seattle win on the road to take a 1-0 series lead. The Kraken outshot Dallas 44-35 but the Stars outplayed them by an expected goal rate of 3.26-2.78. The Stars bounced right back though in Game 2, coming up with a big win for me as they took down Seattle 4-2. They were the far better team, outshooting the Kraken 37-27 and absolutely dominating them by an expected goal rate of 5.76-1.87. In Game 3 of the series, as it shifted to Seattle, after a scoreless first period, the Kraken took over, scoring five times to ride out the game to a dominant 7-2 win. They were outshot 26-25 but outplayed Dallas by an expected goal rate of 2.42-1.79, with seven different goal scorers for their seven goals. The Stars answered back on the road in Game 4 to tie up the series with a big 6-3 win in Seattle. With a four goal third period, they rode a 5-1 lead to the victory, outshooting the Kraken 25-19 and outplaying them by an expected goal rate of 4.98-2.56. Dallas put the Kraken a game away from elimination with another dominant win at home in Game 5, winning 5-2. Despite getting outshot 31-21, the Stars outplayed Seattle by an expected goal rate of 3.03-1.21. The Kraken, with their backs against the wall avoided elimination on Saturday night with a big 6-3 win at home. They got out to a 4-1 lead and rode that lead to the win, outshooting the Stars 29-23 and getting the win despite getting slightly outplayed by an expected goal rate of 3.56-3.32. Dallas closed out the series with a 2-1 win in Game 7 at home to advance to the Western Conference Finals. They dominated play, with Jake Oettinger holding a shutout for the first 59:19 minutes of the game. They outshot the Kraken 28-23 and outplayed Seattle by an expected goal rate of 3.91-2.35.

Dallas has been good statistically on both ends of the ice through the first two rounds of the playoffs. They’ve scored an average of 3.62 goals per game, the fifth-most of any team that made the playoffs, on an average of 29.6 shots per game. The Stars have had the fifth-best power play of the playoffs, scoring on 31.7% of their chances, the best of the four teams remaining. Defensively they’ve allowed the sixth-fewest goals of the 16 teams that made the playoffs, an average of 3.08 goals per game on an average of 26.3 shots allowed. Their penalty kill has been the third best of the teams that made the playoffs, killing off 83.3% of their penalties.

I have 2 unit futures on both of these teams to win the Stanley Cup, the Golden Knights with incredible value at +1200 from very early in the season and the Stars from during the playoffs with some solid value at +815. I think this ends up being a competitive series that goes six or seven games and I’ll take the series to go over 5.5 games for 2 units along with half a unit on it to go to Game 7. I’m a bit biased as the Knights are my second favorite team in the NHL behind my beloved Sabres, but I’d lean Vegas wins this series and are the deeper, more well-rounded team, but note enough to bet them to win it. I do win a good amount more on my Knights future than my Stars future, but I’ll let them both ride.

I’d lean the Knights win Game 1 at home on Friday night, but not enough to bet them, so I’ll stay off the side in Game 1.

I expect the games in this series to go over, with the second-round series for both of these teams trending that way. I will take the over in Game 1, which is set at just 5.5 with a great price at -103, for 1.5 units.

Futures

2u Vegas Golden Knights – Stanley Cup Champions (+1200)

2u Dallas Stars – Stanley Cup Champions (+815)

Series Bets

2u Golden Knights/Stars over 5.5 games (-186)

.5u Golden Knights/Stars over 6.5 games (+200)

Game 1 Bets

1.5u Golden Knights/Stars over 5.5 (-103)


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