Golden Knights vs. Stars: 2020 Western Conference Final preview

When the Stars and Golden Knights built 3-1 series leads in the Second Round, they probably expected to get to the 2020 Western Conference Final much sooner. Instead, each team needed to grit out Game 7 nail-biters to beat the Avalanche and Canucks respectively.

Each Game 7 told some of the story of the Stars’ and Golden Knights’ journeys to the 2020 Western Conference Final.

The Stars closed off a high-scoring, wild series with a high-scoring, wild Game 7 versus the Avs. Leads kept changing hands until little-known Dallas forward Joel Kiviranta completed his hat trick in overtime.

Meanwhile, the Golden Knights were forced to grind away against the suddenly-turtling Canucks. After failing to solve Thatcher Demko in Games 5 and 6, they finally did just enough to advance.

So, will the Stars carry over unexpected scoring ways, or try to present a more polished version of the Canucks’ late-series gameplan against the Golden Knights? Will Vegas echo Colorado in forcing a high-octane style on Dallas anyway, only with more success? We’ll find out as the Golden Knights battle the Stars in the 2020 Western Conference Final.

No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars

Game 1: Sunday, Sept. 6, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 2: Tuesday, Sept. 8, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 3:
Thursday, Sept. 10, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4:
Saturday, Sept. 12, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 5:
Monday, Sept. 14, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Game 6:
Wednesday, Sept. 16, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Game 7:
Friday, Sept. 18, 9 p.m. ET – NBCSN

*if necessary



During the regular season, Max Pacioretty (66 points) and Mark Stone (63) both finished in the top 30 in point scoring. The Stars, meanwhile, saw one player finish in the top 70: Tyler Seguin (50 points, tied for 68th).

And while the Golden Knights didn’t always convert on their league-leading puck possession, they still average more goals per game (3.15, 13th-best) than the Stars (2.58, 26th-ranked). In “elevator pitch” terms, it makes sense, too: the Golden Knights feature “two first lines,” while the Stars’ lone first one has struggled to the point of CEO profanity during recent seasons.

The gap might have closed a bit during the playoffs, though. Consider that Vegas’ goals per game in the postseason (3.29) was only marginally better than that of Dallas (3.20). Switching to the elevator pitch again: the Stars showed they could hang in a run-and-gun series with the run-and-gun Avalanche.

Maybe the biggest factor for the Stars is that they got this far with Tyler Seguin struggling? Seguin failed to score in the last four games of the Avs series, and it’s felt like Seguin’s been “due” for ages. Maybe his bad 2020 postseason and career playoff percentages (both in the five-percent range) point to a lack of [insert slight about his grit/stick-to-it-iveness]. Or maybe Seguin might actually break through in a more wide-open series?

Either way, the Stars have some potential to score more than they have before, and the series against Colorado put that on display.



You may not know this, but Shea Theodore is kind of a big deal.

For some time, the Golden Knights’ defense has been underrated, overall. Even beyond “the best defense is a good offense” nature of simply hogging the puck, this is a pretty mobile group that can move the puck. You don’t dominate puck possession for two seasons in a row by only being explosive offensively.

But defense has often been the Stars’ “thing,” and Dallas is one of the few NHL teams who possess two blue-chippers in Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg.

This is really close, especially since the Golden Knights hang in there — if not surpass — the Stars at limiting high-danger chances and scoring chances against, yet …

Advantage: STARS, slightly.


Quite a while ago, goaltending would have been a no-brainer advantage for the Stars. Then the Golden Knights traded for Robin Lehner, followed by Ben Bishop getting injured. Now it’s a tougher call.

Granted, Anton Khudobin ranks among those backups who could probably start elsewhere. During the regular season, Khudobin sported a noticeably superior save percentage (.930) to Ben Bishop (.920), and he’s played at a comparably high level as Bishop since joining the Stars. While Khudobin looked shakier as the Avs – Stars series went on, it’s fair to ask: how many goalies would have thrived in such a hectic series?

But, still, it would have been more comforting if the Stars had both Khudobin and Bishop to lean on. It really doesn’t seem that way, and with Jake Oettinger largely unproven, the position holds some unpredictably.

Lehner, meanwhile, has been playing at an incredibly high level for two seasons now, while Marc-Andre Fleury is a seasoned goalie. Of course, MAF’s viability will prompt people to call for Lehner’s head anytime he wavers, so that’s not great, either.

Advantage: GOLDEN KNIGHTS, at least if Bishop isn’t healthy.


The Stars share the playoffs power-play goal lead (15) with the Avalanche team they eliminated, and Dallas connected on an impressive 28.3 percent of their chances during the postseason. That gives the Stars the postseason edge, as the Golden Knights have only scored nine PPG on a 20.5-percent success rate. That said, the Golden Knights killed penalties very well (87.8 percent) while the Stars have been solid (82.3).

During the regular season, the Stars matched the Golden Knights with 42 PPG despite playing in two fewer games (interestingly, Vegas boasted a better power-play percentage, though, at 22 to 21.1 for Dallas). While the Golden Knights struggled to kill penalties (76.6 percent), the Stars were stingier (79.7). It’s fair to wonder if Robin Lehner and generally tighter playoff play translates to a wash on the PK.

Overall, a lot of the signs point to Dallas, as the Stars won Game 7 in part thanks to Alexander Radulov‘s pair of PPG. That said, it will be interesting to see if the Golden Knights regain their PK aggressiveness. They scored nine shorthanded goals during the regular season, while the Stars generated five.

Advantage: STARS.


Golden Knights in 6.

Heading into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it seemed like the Stars were a one-trick pony. As it turns out, the Stars proved they can win a high-scoring series when they beat the Avalanche.

That said, the Golden Knights boast a roster that could hang with the Avs, and Vegas also has two healthy goalies. With that in mind, the Stars might want to slow things down to their more typical rhythm. If so, Vegas will probably be OK with that, as the Golden Knights can dance to many different tempos.

Expect two tired teams to start the 2020 Western Conference Final. As the series goes along, it could get really interesting, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Barkov sets Panthers’ points mark in 5-2 win over Red Wings

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    DETROIT – Aleksander Barkov set the Florida franchise record for most career points, Carter Verhaeghe scored two goals, and the streaking Panthers beat the Detroit Red Wings for the ninth consecutive time, 5-2.

    Barkov recorded a second-period assist, giving him 614 points, breaking a tie with Jonathan Huberdeau for the team record.

    Matthew Tkachuk had a goal and two assists, giving him 14 points over the last five games. Eric Staal and Gustav Forsling also scored for the Panthers, who are 6-0-1 over their last seven games, and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 20 shots.

    Pius Suter and Dylan Larkin scored for the Red Wings, who have lost 10 of their last 12 games. Ville Husso had 20 saves.

    The Panthers led 2-1 after the first period.

    The first Florida goal came after Lucas Raymond‘s turnover in his own zone. Sam Bennett made the steal and passed it to Tkachuk for his 33rd goal.

    Verhaeghe made it 2-0 with a slap shot that got past a screened Husso. The Red Wings challenged for goalie interference, but the goal was upheld after a video review.

    Just after killing off the subsequent penalty, Detroit got on the board when Suter jammed in a rebound of David Perron‘s shot.

    Forsling scored on shot from the point midway through the second period to restore Florida’s two-goal advantage. Barkov had the second assist, allowing him to break the franchise points record.

    Larkin scored on a delayed penalty off a pass from Raymond at 7:53 of the third to cut the Panthers’ lead to 3-2.

    Staal scored on a breakaway off a pass from Anthony Duclair with under four minutes left, and Verhaeghe added a power-play goal.


    Panthers F Eetu Luostarinen had an assist in the 200th game of his career. … Florida is 29-2-3 when leading after two periods. … The last time the Red Wings beat the Panthers was Feb. 20, 2021. … Barkov has 42 points in 38 career games against Detroit. … Andrew Copp notched his 150th career assist on Larkin’s goal.


    Panthers: At Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

    Red Wings: At St. Louis on Tuesday night to open a home-and-home set.

    Ferguson stops 47 shots, Senators top reeling Penguins 2-1

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    PITTSBURGH – Drake Batherson‘s power-play goal from in front with 2:09 left in regulation lifted the Ottawa Senators to a 2-1 win over the reeling Pittsburgh Penguins.

    The Penguins finally beat Ottawa goaltender Dylan Ferguson on a Rickard Rakell goal with 5:21 to play, but a hooking penalty by Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel gave the Senators the man advantage and Batherson responded with his 21st goal of the season.

    Ferguson, making his first NHL start and first appearance in the league in more than five years, made 47 saves to send Pittsburgh to its fourth straight loss. Thomas Chabot scored his 10th goal of the season for Ottawa as the Senators snapped a five-game slide.

    The Penguins fell behind Florida in the race for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. Tristan Jarry played well but couldn’t get in the way of Batherson’s jam shot from just outside the crease.

    Ferguson began the night having played nine minutes at the NHL level as a teenager for Vegas early in the Golden Knights’ debut season in 2017-18. He has bounced around various levels of the minors ever since and was in the process of being sent down to the ECHL by the AHL’s Toronto Marlies earlier this month when the Senators signed him to a two-way deal.

    Something clicked. He played well enough in six games for Ottawa’s AHL affiliate in Belleville to receive a call-up on Sunday. Just over 24 hours later, the Senators made the now 24-year-old Ferguson the sixth goaltender they’ve used this season when they gave him the nod against the struggling Penguins.

    Ferguson looked like he belonged from the opening faceoff. He made a series of sharp saves early, including a couple of stops from in close against Jake Guentzel and a flashy glove save on a slap shot by Malkin.

    Jarry, a two-time All-Star who has struggled to find any sort of consistency since returning from an extended stay on the injured list, took a step forward, turning aside multiple odd-man rushes and a breakaway by Brady Tkachuk in the second period.

    The lone goal Jarry allowed came 16:46 into the first when Chabot took a feed from Claude Giroux and rather than fire a shot from high in the slot skated down to the right circle and beat Jarry to the far post.

    Jarry was solid the rest of the way, though he spent most of the game watching Ferguson dazzle at the other end before Rakell broke through with just over 5 minutes to go.


    Senators: Travel to Boston on Tuesday to face the NHL-leading Bruins.

    Penguins: Start a difficult back-to-back on the road on Wednesday when they visit the Avalanche in Denver.

    Sharks goalie James Reimer declines to wear Pride jersey

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    San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer didn’t take part in pregame warmups, saying the team’s decision to wear Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

    Reimer said in a statement Saturday that he made the decision based on his Christian beliefs, adding that he “always strived to treat everyone with respect” and that members of the LGBTQ community should be welcome in hockey.

    “In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said.

    Reimer is the second NHL player this season to refuse to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, with Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov declining to in January. Reimer was not slated to start in Saturday night’s home game against the New York Islanders, which is Pride night.

    Additionally, the New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

    The Sharks said in a statement that they are proud to host Pride Night, saying the event reinforces the team’s commitment to inclusiveness.

    “As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic,” the team said in a statement. “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”

    The You Can Play Project, which works to promote inclusiveness in sports, said the organization was disappointed in Reimer’s actions.

    “Religion and respect are not in conflict with each other, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason to not support our community,” the organization said. “Wearing pride jerseys, like any celebration jersey worn, is not about the personal feelings of an athlete; rather the communication from the team that a community is welcome in the arena and the sport.”

    Panarin, Shesterkin lead Rangers to 6-0 rout of Penguins

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    NEW YORK — Mika Zibanejad had a goal and two assists, Artemi Panarin scored twice and Igor Shesterkin made 33 saves as the New York Rangers routed Pittsburgh 6-0 on Saturday night for their second win over the Penguins in three days.

    Vladimir Tarasenko, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba also scored for the surging Rangers, who have won nine of their last 11 home games and are 12-4-0 in their past 16 at Madison Square Garden.

    Shesterkin won his fifth straight and posted his second shutout this season. He nimbly denied Pittsburgh forward Mikael Granland with a sprawling save five minutes into the third period to preserve the shutout, the 10th of his career. His other one this season was a 1-0 home win over Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

    “When you put in hard and honest work, miracles happen,” Shesterkin said through a translator. ”We played wonderfully today – scored many, many goals. Honestly, I hope the fans loved it. We’re playing for them.”

    The Penguins lost their third straight and trail the Rangers by 12 points for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh, still in wild-card position, is trying to reach the playoffs for the 17th straight time.

    “Tonight was a humbling experience for all of us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. ”At this time of year, you have to have a short memory. We still have control of our destiny.”

    Patrick Kane and defenseman K’Andre Miller also had two assists apiece as New York improved to 7-1-1 in its last nine home games against Pittsburgh. The Rangers are five points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils, who lost at Florida on Saturday.

    “This was a big game for our goalie and our team,” Panarin said. “If you work at playing the right way, you have opportunities for goals.”

    Since Dec. 5, when they turned around their season with a 6-4 comeback win at home over St. Louis, the Rangers are 29-9-5.

    As he did on Thursday when the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-2, Zibanejad opened the scoring. He got his team-leading 36th goal at 5:10 of the first, beating Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry. Trouba and Miller assisted.

    Panarin made it 2-0 at 19:49 on the power play, whipping the puck past Jarry from the left circle off a pass from Adam Fox.

    Tarasenko increased the lead at 3:54 of the second with his fifth goal since joining the Rangers in a trade with St. Louis on Feb. 9. Tarasenko has points in 10 of his first 18 games with the Rangers.

    Kreider made it 4-0 at 6:43 with his 31st goal and third in two games against the Penguins. Kane and Vincent Trocheck assisted on Kreider’s 260th career goal, which moved the Rangers forward within two of Vic Hadfield for fifth place on the franchise list.

    New York won Thursday when Kreider scored the go-ahead goal in the third and added an empty-netter.

    After Casey DeSmith replaced Jarry in net following Kreider’s goal, Trouba beat the replacement with a sharp-angle shot at 8:39 for his eighth to increase the margin to 5-0. Trouba has points in six of his last eight games.

    Panarin scored again at 16:38 of the second – his 22nd goal of the season – to make it 6-0, with assists to Kane and Filip Chytil.

    “We’re building chemistry, building every day and every game,” Kane said.

    Panarin has points in eight of his last 10 games and leads the Rangers with 77 points overall, while Kane has seven points in his last six games.

    “It’s nice to see that many great players on your team,” added Panarin, whose first two NHL seasons were played alongside Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks. “We’re happy tonight.”

    Zibanejad assisted on goals by Tarasenko and Trouba and has 25 points – including 14 goals – over his last 20 games.

    “It was just one of those nights when the puck goes in for us,” Zibanejad said. “And obviously Igor gives us a boost making all those saves.”

    NOTES: The Penguins were missing defenseman Jeff Petry after he was hit with an unpenalized elbow from Rangers forward Tyler Motte on Thursday. … Pittsburgh also scratched defenseman Jan Rutta and forward Dalton Heinen and played defenseman Mark Friedman for the first time since Feb. 11. … The Rangers were without injured defenseman Ryan Lindgren for the 10th straight game.


    Penguins: Host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

    Rangers: Host the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.