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Battle Of Depth Tilting Towards Dallas

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

For the first 10+ games of this playoff run one of the most consistent parts of the Golden Knights’ game has been their 4th line. No matter what has been going on with the group ahead of them, the grinders on the 4th line have gotten the job done night in and night out.

The Western Conference Final started out that way as Teddy Blueger came up with the go-ahead goal in the 3rd period. In Game 2 the 4th line was the only group that had any consistent success at 5-on-5, out-attempting the Stars 10-3, out-chancing them 3-0, and managing multiple high-danger chances without allowing one.

From there though, and especially in the past two games, it’s headed in the wrong direction for the depth players in gold.

Our 4th line didn’t do what it typically does in terms of puck possession in the O-Zone and then they were forced to play and got outworked in the D-Zone. So that’s something I expect to change. Whether Howden’s on that line, Blueger, or Nic Roy, they have to do a better job against their 4th line. Give credit to that line for Dallas, they outplayed our guys. -Cassidy

The group of Radek Faksa, Fredrik Olafsson, and Luke Glendening dominated the Golden Knights’ 4th line in Game 5 including the massive goal that tied the game. That group posted a 92% expected goals share against the VGK 4th line and did not allow William Carrier, Keegan Kolesar, and Brett Howden anything near the front of the net.

In many ways, it set the tone for the rest of the team.

That was one part of the game where that slot battle comes into play and that urgency tilts the game in their favor. When our 4th line is going well like that, our game goes better. They did some good things but they have to get back to who they are and their identity. -Cassidy

Vegas had troubles in many areas of the ice last night, including giving the puck away 24 times, but the largest area of concern is directly in front of the net. After being basically even through two games, the Golden Knights now trail 63-48 in high-danger chances in the series. Even as good as Adin Hill has been, the Stars have scored five goals from high-danger chances in the past two games, they had just three in the first three.

That’s our group, next man up. We got contributions from everyone. I mean that’s a gutsy win being down a couple of guys and coming in here. I like our group and I wouldn’t bet against them. -Pete DeBoer

To turn this around and secure that final win, the Golden Knights must get back to getting contributions up and down the lineup. Vegas’ depth has made line matching difficult for opposing coaches, especially in road games. With Game 6 taking place at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Vegas is going to need everyone to get back to playing the way they were.

Dallas Brought Desperation And Tactical Adjustments To Game 4, VGK’s Turn To Counter

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

The Golden Knights have the Stars on the brink. With their backs against the wall, Vegas knew they’d get everything Dallas had left in the tank in Game 4. That of course comes with the cliches of desperation, higher levels of intensity, and in this particular series, trying to keep the season alive long enough to get Jamie Benn back from suspension.

Desperation was the highest it’s been. At home, you know what’s on the line, what the stakes are. Everyone came to play and we’re going to need that same desperation through these next three games. -Jason Robertson

What Game 4 also came with was a few new players in the Dallas lineup, a brand new set of lines through the bottom-nine, and a couple of tactical tweaks.

We felt they were forechecking the puck side very heavily and trying to outnumber us on that side. So that took away a little but of our ability to break out on the strong side. When we did we were good, and we did on the first goal by Karlsson. They were on us quicker after that. So we tried to change sides with some rims and we tried to balance our breakouts but that’s one area I noticed for sure they were more content to forecheck us and it worked for them. -Cassidy

As Cassidy mentioned, one of the first times the Stars tried to aggressively attack the strong side of Vegas’ breakout, the Golden Knights beat it and ended up scoring a goal. Watch.

As you can see, all five Stars players are on one side of the ice. Reilly Smith makes an excellent play along the boards to eliminate the pinching Ryan Suter and the Golden Knights are off to the races.

Of course, there’s a lot more to do on this play to end up putting it into the back of the net (including getting a lot of help from Suter’s peculiar route back into his own zone), but it all started with a clean breakout against a numbers disadvantage along the wall.

That adjustment would pay off for the Stars though. Here’s the very next time they got the puck in deep.

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Does Dallas Have Enough Fight Left To Force A Game 5?

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. No team in NHL history has come back from an 0-3 conference finals deficit. The downward-spiraling Dallas Stars will try and begin a historic run tonight with a win in Game 4. Win or lose, in all likelihood the Golden Knights have done enough to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s just a matter of when.

So, what should the Golden Knights expect from a Stars team that the record books have shown they have nothing to play for?

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. That’s the approach we’re going to take with the rest of the series. We’re not going to get back in the series tomorrow night, but we’ll take a bite and see what happens. – Pete DeBoer, DAL coach

As former NHL goaltender Mike McKenna reminds us weekly; hockey players have a lot of pride. So, of course the Stars have something to play for but it’s unlikely to be for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl. It’s hard to believe Dallas’ locker room, coaching staff and fanbase have any confidence in a four-game win streak but a victory in Game 4 would give them some sense of false hope. Even if Dallas can return home for a desperate Game 6, history is still heavily against them.

Assuming Vegas comes out as sharp as they have all series, the home team will be up against it from the opening puck drop. The Golden Knights will be hungry to sweep the series and earn as much rest as the Eastern Conference champions Florida Panthers. Dallas will be down two impact forwards but it’s not the focus around the locker room. The Stars are taking a simple approach into tomorrow’s elimination game.

We’re just worried about trying to get our first win in this series. That’s all that matters. We’re going to have to play desperate hockey now. Our lives are at stake here and I’m looking forward to it. This group has answered when our backs are against the wall. We’re going to find a way to muster up a good 60 minutes and find a way to beat a really good team. We’re going to have a hungry team tomorrow – Max Domi, DAL forward

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The Golden Knights Forecheck Went After Dallas In Game 1 And They’re Coming Again In Game 2

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

In Game 1, the game plan for the Golden Knights was simple, literally the age old hockey cliche.

Get it in deep.

From the very first shift of the game the Golden Knights consistently sent puck after puck after puck deep into the Dallas zone and then hounded their defensemen until they’d unwillingly give it back.

Vegas’ forecheck was buzzing from puck drop to the final shift a few minutes into overtime. It’s become the hallmark of the Golden Knights’ offensive system, and the head coach was not shy in making a declaration about it moving forward in the series.

That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do it Sunday, so you can put that in print or whatever it is these days. That’s our game and we’re not trying to hide from it. -Bruce Cassidy

Just as it won’t be news to the Stars on Sunday, Vegas’ forecheck didn’t surprise Dallas in Game 1. They knew it was coming, they knew how effective it can be, they just didn’t handle it well at all.

Part of it was execution on us and part of it was them coming at us hard early. You’ve got to give them credit, they were ready to play and they played well. -Pete DeBoer

The dominance of the forecheck was why the ice was tilted so heavily in Vegas’ favor most of the night. The Golden Knights generated 11 takeaways as they denied every exit route out of the Stars end. It looked like they came into the game knowing exactly what Dallas was going to do with the puck, and that’s because, they did.

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Like Vegas, Dallas Led By Hockey Lifers Fighting For First Cup

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When you look up and down the Golden Knights and Stars lineups, you’ll notice many recognizable faces. From the coaches to the captains and all the way down to the depth players there are handfuls of hungry and impatient NHL’ers participating in this year’s Western Conference Final. Each side has gotten close, but neither franchise has raised a Stanley Cup in the Golden Knights era.

That’s why we play. We grew up watching the playoffs every year as a youngster. We’re hoping one day to get that chance. Now that we’re here, we don’t get too many chances like this. I’ve only been in this situation once before and you don’t want to let opportunities like this slip away when you’re so close. -Jamie Benn, Stars captain

Captains Mark Stone and Jamie Benn lead two veteran groups desperate to reach the final round. Stone’s been a part of several deep playoff runs but has never been lucky enough to play in a SCF. He competed once in the conference finals with Ottawa and twice with Vegas. In his own words, this could be his best chance. Likewise for Benn and some of his veteran teammates.

Perennial scapegoat, Benn is used to being the target of angry Stars fans after past playoff exits. However, his impact on the ice was curtailed by first-year coach Pete DeBoer. Benn’s real value will be leading his team in the locker room and on the ice for the 17 minutes he’s averaged this postseason. If they prevail, Benn will undoubtedly receive the most praise from Dallas. Stars’ reporter Sean Shapiro noted DeBoer’s intentions and Benn’s professionalism made way for a resurgence in 2022-23.

Micro-load management by DeBoer revitalized Benn’s game-to-game energy. His minutes dropped, but he was more effective in the time he was on the ice. Benn quietly finished with 78 points, 32 more than he had the previous season and his most since he had 79 in the 2017-18 campaign. He set a career-high with a plus-23 and a career mark for face-off wins, taking more than 60 percent. The Stars are partly in the Western Conference final because Benn allowed himself to be overshadowed. He embraced the supporting role on the ice, but he never relinquished the leadership responsibilities off of it. – Sean Shapiro, Stars reporter 

The Stars have several players that could be poster children for NHL players to have accomplished everything without winning an NHL championship. Ageless weapon Joe Pavelski reached the Cup finals twice in his career but fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. The 38-year-old is running out of opportunities to cement his name in NHL history. Fellow American-born player Ryan Suter has battled for almost two decades to embrace the Stanley Cup.

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Coaching Familiarity Goes Both Ways In Western Conference Final

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

This may come as a shock to the readers of this site, but I’m going to say it anyway. Pete DeBoer used to be the coach of the Golden Knights and now he’s on the other bench coaching VGK’s opponent in the Western Conference Final.

I know, bet you didn’t even realize it until just right now.

But seriously, all joking aside, the familiarity of DeBoer and the majority of the current Golden Knights roster will play a significant role in this series.

I think it’ll help them a lot because he does know certain tendencies of the players and he can point out things that they may be able to do. I was in Boston six years, if we play them tomorrow I certainly know some of what you don’t see on film about the individuals. He’ll help their defensemen against or forwards or their forwards forechecking our D. -Bruce Cassidy

The familiarity goes both ways though as DeBoer is not the only one who has spent time coaching the other side. Golden Knights’ assistant coach, John Stevens, who runs the defense for Vegas, spent each of the last three seasons behind the bench in Dallas running their D.

Five of the seven regular defensemen played under Stevens including the most important trio of Miro Heiskanen, Ryan Suter, and Esa Lindell.

In addition to Stevens’, Cassidy believes the other two holdover assistants will be of help to the Golden Knights as well. Both Ryan Craig and Misha Donskov were assistant coaches running DeBoer’s system in Vegas.

We had our meeting this morning and I just put up my feet up relaxing because they have all the information and it’s just up to me to decide what to do with it in a couple days. -Cassidy

From systems to individuals, the awareness of what’s happening on the other bench is going to be at an all time high. Vegas’ players keenly understand exactly what the Stars are trying to do in all three zones and should have good enough memories about what is necessary to cause tactical problems. Meanwhile, DeBoer knows the strengths and weaknesses of every significant player on the roster and should be able to help guide his current team into exploiting them.

There will be more information available early in this series. There’s a little more knowledge this series, internal knowledge, and we’ll see how that plays out. -Cassidy

On top of information and knowledge, the familiarity also brings a bit more motivation.

There’s no doubt it means a little more obviously to me and that would be for anybody in this situation. I think the important thing for me here is the hockey and the focus on the players though. -Pete DeBoer

Meanwhile after DeBoer’s dismissal, there were some murmurs from players that the DeBoer system had become too regimented and there needed to be more freedom to make plays. Vegas will want to prove to themselves and to their former coach that they were right by finding holes in the system they were chained to the last two and a half seasons.

One side will win, one side will lose, and oddly enough, each probably already know exactly how it’s going to happen.

DeBoer Doesn’t Get Narrative That VGK “Are Suddenly Defending” Under Cassidy

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When it comes to the Golden Knights, you can read pretty much any article on this site, watch any game on TV, listen to any discussion on the radio, and you are bound to hear at least some mention of Bruce Cassidy’s devotion to defending.

Cassidy came into Vegas with a new zone defense style that helped make his Boston Bruins teams some of the stingiest in the league over the past five years. That system is expected to help turn a Golden Knights team that finished 14th in the league in goals against last year to a higher level.

However, the guy who used to stand behind the bench is sick of hearing this narrative, and he probably has a point.

There’s been similar stuff that’s been said about me coming out of Vegas. All of a sudden Bruce Cassidy is in there and they are defending. We won the Jennings and the Vezina the year before. –Pete DeBoer on Jeff Marek Show

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