-- by Patrick Day
The Dallas Stars have advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals.
They took control of the Western Conference, finishing off the Las Vegas Golden Knights in five games, winning 3-2 in overtime. The Stars return to the finals after a two-decade absence, losing to the New Jersey Devils in 2000.
The Stars, since 2000, have had talented teams mixed with high hopes yet could not advance to this level. The pandemic-modified season and playoffs saw the Stars have a lackluster round robin, going punch for punch with the Calgary Flames, nearly blowing a 3-1 series lead to a blockbuster Colorado Avalanche and winning in overtime in game 7, and finishing off a smoking, odds-on favorite Las Vegas Golden Knights.
So, how did Dallas win the West?
First, they relied on their back-up goaltender Anton Khudobin. He has emerged as an absolute backstop, filling in for their starter and Vezina-nominated Ben Bishop. Khudobin has most certainly become a favorite for the Conn Smythe (Playoff MVP), becoming a calming fixture in net, despite his small stature. His .918 save percentage mixed with a 2.67 GAA (goals against average) while averaging 32 shots a game points to solid play in net.
Next, their forwards have had their mix of scoring feasts and famines. In round robin play (3 games), they had contributed just three goals. However, once the playoffs began, veterans Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and Joe Pavelski seemed to find the net more and more.
Finally, Coach Rick Bowness turned in to defensive core of Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg, Jamie Oleksiak and Esa Lindell to lock down their opponents, while contributing to the offense (Heiskanen leads the team in points).
What does this mean for the Stanley Cup Finals? Dallas has emerged from a team that few thought had a solid identity while making some questionable moves considering their results in 2019. Their forwards were aging to a point that their offensive output would be league average. Dallas had a great foundation on defense, with the 21-year-old Heiskanen emerging both offensively and defensively. Bishop was supposed to be the rock in net, yet Khudobin has provided timely saves and more consistent play than Bishop. Dallas also replaced their coach mid-season and has indicated that Rick Bowness that the job is his, regardless of the outcome of the playoffs.
I would look for low scoring games, multiple overtime sessions in those games, but Dallas has ended several games in the first OT, so look for possible in-game bets.
I also think they will be an underdog for either team that emerges from the East. As a prop bet, I would also look for Khudobin to be the favorite for MVP, but do not sleep on Heiskanen or Radulov.
Look for my Eastern Conference analysis, and Finals breakdown, coming soon!
In the meantime, here's the odds on tonight's Eastern Conference finals at SPREADS.CA