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Golden Knights Look to Bounce Back Against Confident Stars

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Dallas Stars hockey returned with a vengeance during the first game of the Western Conference Final.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Dallas Stars at Vegas Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Starting with the national broadcast on NBC, and propagating through other media, a rested Dallas Stars pushed around a tired Vegas Golden Knights team on Sunday night. Admittedly, Vegas’ Game 7 triumph was on day two of a back-to-back against the Vancouver Canucks. If Vegas was tired, it was a direct result of the fruitless domination of their cycle game against a Canucks team being held together by wunderkind Elias Pettersson, duct tape, and a heroic Thatcher Demko.

Sometimes teams come out flat. Stars fans have suffered through that as much as most others. The reemergence of a suffocating Dallas defense, especially through the neutral zone, likely contributed to the Vegas slow start as much as “being tired.”

The national telecast opened the pregame show with a piece on offensive defenders changing the game. Shea Theodore, and to a lesser extent Miro Heiskanen, were given their due. It’s one game, but Heiskanen lived up to the hype, and top-to-bottom the Stars’ defense looked ready in both zones.

Understandably, but lost in the mix for a national audience, was the play of Joel Hanley. The Stars’ sixth defender played just over 12 minutes — not a lot in a six-man rotation — but given the single digit minutes played by Taylor Fedun prior to his injury, a significant increase. In addition, Hanley’s minutes were not overly sheltered and included ice time during the last five minutes against the Golden Knights’ top-six talent.

Undoubtedly, Andrej Sekera has improved since a slow start against the Calgary Flames. Playing with Hanley instead of Fedun gives Sekera the freedom to be the experienced, creative defender in the pairing. The pairing comprised of Hanley and Sekera spent multiple shifts as the back end for the Radek Faksa line, and that frees up the top two pairs to impact the game in non-shutdown roles.

Offensively, Joe Pavelski’s line was a bit off. To this point in the playoffs, the line has been dominant in their possession game. Missing is Denis Gurianov, and Alexander Radulov brings a lot to the game, but not really what Gurianov did for this line. Radulov and Mattias Janmark play similar roles on the forecheck, and given that there are a limited number of possession forwards on the Stars, having both with Pavelski might not be the most effective option. One game isn’t a trend; however, with the Stars rolling four lines, this is one to look at for improvement.

Tyler Seguin with Jason Dickinson and Corey Perry seems a mishmash of skills, but they held their own against the Paul Stastny line. Heiskanen and Jamie Oleksiak were their most common defensive pair, which pulled the trio up to breaking even in possession, but to the detriment of Heiskanen and Oleksiak. If this line doesn’t start to click, it might be worth swapping Perry and Radulov as right wingers.

With a day off to prepare and last change for Game 2, expect Vegas head coach Pete DeBoer to put some work in on lineup matchups. Vegas has three strong cycle lines, with a physical fourth line that causes damage off of the dump-and-chase play. While Dallas was able to clog up the neutral zone in Game 1, expect some adjustments, perhaps shorter passes that change the point of attack as Vegas exits the defensive zone or cross-ice dumps on entries into the offensive zone.

It’s nice to have one game in hand, but don’t expect the Golden Knights to go down without a fight.

Dallas Stars Lineup

Mattias Janmark (13) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Joel Kiviranta (25) - Roope Hintz (24) - Denis Gurianov (34)
Jamie Benn (14) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)
Jason Dickinson (18) - - Tyler Seguin (91) - Corey Perry (10)

Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Joel Hanley (39) - Andrej Sekera (5)

Anton Khudobin (35)

Vegas Golden Knights

Jonathan Marchessault (81) - William Karlsson (71) - Reilly Smith (19)
Max Pacioretty (67) - Chandler Stephenson (20) - Mark Stone (61)
Alex Tuch (89) - Paul Stastny (61) - Nicolas Roy (10)
William Carrier (28) - Nick Cousins (21) - Ryan Reaves (75)

Alec Martinez (23) - Shea Theodore (27)
Brayden McNabb (3) - Nate Schmidt (88)
Nick Holden (22) - Zach Whitecloud (2)

Robin Lehner (90)

Keys to the Game

Composure. Against their first two playoff opponents — the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks — Vegas was the dominant physical team. In Game 1, the Stars stepped up and handled the Golden Knights, beating them at their own game. Vegas takes their physical game right up to the legal limit, and sometimes beyond. The Stars can’t be afford to be dragged into a slugfest.

John Klingberg. The media is setting up a Theodore/Heiskanen battle for an offensive defender Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Klingberg, in this series, can be a stealth secret weapon — a top-pair defender who hides out under the radar.

Body Shots. Not what you think. The Golden Knights are in a shooting slump, with two goals scored against a netminder over the last four games. That’s out of 150 shots. They’re choking their sticks and as a result, they gave the logo on Khudobin’s chest a workout in Game 1. Stars fans have seen that particular monkey on the back many times over the last few years, and it’s nice to see it riding someone else for a change.