ESPN staff9 minutes of reading
Will there be a return to Dallas for Game 6? Or will it be an extended stay in Las Vegas for the start of the Stanley Cup Finals?
Plus, is there another game going to overtime?
These are some of the questions entering Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals between the Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC and ESPN+) in T-Mobile Arena. A series in which three of the four games were decided in overtime again comes with a prize at the end for whoever walks away with the victory.
For the Golden Knights, a win would give them their second Western Conference title in the franchise’s six-year history. If the Stars win, they would force a Game 6 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, knowing that captain Jamie Benn will be eligible to return after a two-game suspension for cross-checking Golden Knights captain Mark Stone in Game 3.
Now that you know what’s at stake, we’ve put together a guide on what to watch from each team, along with keys to victory from Ryan S. Clark and in-depth statistical analysis from ESPN Stats & Information.
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Clark’s road to victory
The Stars must continue to get high-danger chances
What was different for the Stars in Game 4 compared to their previous three Western Conference Finals contests? How about the fact that they had almost as many dangerous scoring chances in one game as they did in the first three games combined.
No, really. That’s not hyperbole. Dallas has had a total of 19 high-danger chances at 5-on-5 in the first three games, according to Natural Stat Trick. Still, in Game 4, the Stars finished with 15 high-danger chances in those 5-on-5 sequences and were able to unlock some of the ice that was key to the Golden Knights’ playoff success.
Few teams have been stronger than the Golden Knights this postseason when it comes to limiting big-danger chances. They allow 10.5 high threat chances per 60, again according to Natural Stat Trick. That’s third in the playoffs. Only the Minnesota Wild and — yes, you guessed it — the Stars allowed fewer high-danger chances per 60 than the Golden Knights.
That’s what made Jason Robertson’s two-goal performance crucial. Yes, there’s the fact that he now has four goals in this series. But the fact that those goals came within 10 feet of the net and one of them was in a 5-on-5 game? There’s a chance that what the Stars did in Game 4 could serve as a blueprint for success Saturday and beyond.
Dallas must receive contributions from multiple players
Back to Robertson, this series has seen him find the consistency that eluded him in the conference semifinal series against the Seattle Kraken. He went from zero goals in seven games in the second round to four goals in four games this round.
You may feel a “but” and, well, you’re right. Robertson has scored half of the Stars’ eight goals in this series, once again sparking a conversation about the importance of receiving more offensive contributions from beyond one player. All in all, the Stars have proven that they can get goals out of everyone in their lineup. Because of this, they had 16 different players score at least one goal.
That is tied with the Golden Knights for the most individual scorers in the playoffs. But it also comes with the understanding that they may need more from Robertson if they want to do more than force a Game 6.
See who made some of the biggest contributions to Zvezda. Tyler Seguin, who is fourth on the team in scoring in the playoffs, has not scored in the past nine games and has just one point in that span. Wyatt Johnston, who is tied for fifth, did not score or record a point in the conference finals. Until his assist in Game 4, Max Domi had not recorded a point in his last four games, while Mason Marchment had one point — a goal — in his last seven games.
Note the Vegas templates
Now that we have some time, it’s worth pointing out something about the Golden Knights this postseason. They don’t really lose that much. Their Game 4 overtime loss was just the fourth time the Golden Knights have lost this postseason. Moreover, the Golden Knights have not lost back-to-back playoff games this year.
As for what the Golden Knights did after those losses? Let’s just say there is a pattern within their sample. They did it to the Winnipeg Jets after losing Game 1 in the first round, and they did it twice to the Edmonton Oilers after losing Games 2 and 4 in the second round.
Here’s how those games went. The Golden Knights give up the first goal in the first 10 minutes of the first period. And while the Golden Knights are getting the scoring answer, they’ve actually saved their most expressive volleys for the second or third period, when they’ve gone three goals in one frame in each of those games.
They shut out the Jets with three goals in the third period in Game 2. They did it to the Oilers with three goals in the second period in Game 2 before doing it again with three more goals in the second period in Game 5. And to score them at home? Seven of those nine goals came in 5-on-5 play — showing that the Golden Knights don’t need a skater edge to put teams away.
Don’t let Roope Hintz cook… anymore
You might have noticed Roope Hintz in Game 4. How could you not? He is, after all, a huge, 6-foot-3, do-it-all center who has been so dominant that in 17 postseason games he is one point shy of scoring a third of the points he scored in 73 regular-season games. To recap: Hintz has 24 points in 17 postseason games, after scoring 75 points in 73 regular season games.
Hintz had a pair of secondary assists in Game 4 that mattered as they were his first points since a three-pointer in Game 1. With the Golden Knights holding Hintz scoreless for two games, what was it that changed in Game 4 where he stole two points?
It is possible that it is about matches. Natural Stat Trick shows that Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy consistently used his top defensive pairing of Alec Martinez and Alex Pietrangelo in Game 2 as a way to contain Hintz. Martinez logged just over 12 minutes against Hintz, while Pietrangelo was just seconds short of 12 minutes against him in Game 2. The Stars’ Finnish dynamo finished that game with two shots and zero points, while his line as a whole managed to record one point in a 5v5 game.
Cassidy used a rotation of defensemen against Hintz and his line in a four-goal win in Game 3, while in Game 4 Nicolas Hague and Zach Whitecloud got the most ice time against Hintz. Hague had 8:13 of 5-on-5 time against Hintz and his line, and Whitecloud checked in at 7:58. The result was that they were on the ice for the go-ahead goal in the second period. So while Hague and Whitecloud are the seventh most-used defensive pairing in 5-on-5 ice time in the playoffs, it’s also possible that Cassidy could use them or go back to Martinez and Pietrangelo in an attempt to capitalize on the success the latter had in Game 2.
Notes from ESPN Stats and Info
Vegas can make its second Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history (also in 2018). The Golden Knights would be the eighth franchise in NHL history to reach the Finals multiple times in their first six NHL seasons, following the Edmonton Oilers (three times), the St. Louis Blues (three times), the New York Rangers (three times), the Boston Bruins (three times), the original Ottawa Senators (three times), the Montreal Maroons (twice) and the Toronto Arenas/St. Patricks (twice).
Both of Vegas’ field goals in Game 4 came from 10 feet away. For the series, they saw success when they reached the network. Eight of their 13 field goals (61.5%) in this series have come from within 15 feet.
William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault each recorded their eighth goal of the 2023 playoffs in the Game 4 loss. That is tied for the most goals in a single postseason in Golden Knights history with Alex Tuch (2020) and Marchessault (2018).
Jack Eichel had an assist in Game 4, his 17th point of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That’s the second most by a US-born skater in his first postseason, behind only Jake Guentzel (21 in 2017).
The Golden Knights’ defense recorded 15 shots on goal in Game 4, their most in a single game in the playoffs. Game 4 marked the sixth time the Vegas defense had at least 10 shots on goal.
Adin Hill made 16 saves in a Game 4 rush. He leads all goalies in the playoffs with a .973 save percentage on rush shots, according to Stathletes.
After going 1-for-7 on the power play in the first three games of the series, the Stars went 2-for-2 on the power play in Game 4, including the game-winner in overtime. It was the sixth time this postseason Dallas had a multiple with an extra slider, and the first in the previous seven games.
In the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Stars are converting 32% of their power-play opportunities, which would be the most for a franchise in a single postseason since team tracking began in 1977-78. The current franchise record is 31% by the 1983 North Stars.
Jason Robertson recorded his first career multi-goal game in the playoffs, giving him 52 combined regular season and playoff goals. In Stars/North Stars franchise history, only Brian Bellows (59 in 1989-90), Dino Ciccarelli (58 in 1981-82) and Mike Modano (57 in 1993-94) have more goals than Robertson’s 52.
Jamie Benn is suspended for Game 4 and will be suspended for Game 5 as well. In his place was 26-year-old Fredrik Olofsson, who played just over 10 minutes and had five shots on goal, second most behind Jason Robertson’s 11. Olofsson became the third player in the 2023 playoffs to have a five-hit game. on goal in 11 minutes of ice time or less, along with Daniel Sprong and Paul Stastny.
Roope Hintz had two assists to give him a postseason-leading 24 points. Hintz’s total in a single postseason is tied for sixth in franchise history with Brett Hull (24 in 2000) and five shy of the franchise records held by Steve Payne (1981) and Brian Bellows (1991).
Miro Heiskanen had two assists in Game 4, his 10th and 11th of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the second time he reached double figures in the postseason. Only two other defensemen in franchise history have multiple 10-assist postseason seasons with the franchise: Brad Maxwell (twice) and Sergey Zubov (twice).