The Dallas Stars scored a power play goal in overtime to eliminate the Vegas Golden Knights in just five games, which was … well, the opposite of what I expected to happen. I think it’s fair to say it was the opposite of what most expected to happen -- many of the players included -- which obviously leaves some thoughts to dig through.
Let’s get started.
1. I don’t know why I feel like I need to tip-toe around this point. Perhaps because I think it’s a reasonable one to make in private, but maybe doesn’t seem polite in public, but still, it should probably be made.
Peter DeBoer’s 12-year coaching career, most specifically the years in San Jose, seem fairly categorized as “talented team that couldn’t quite get over the hump.” They consistently had excellent regular seasons, stars all throughout the lineup, but they just couldn’t find their way to win the big one. In DeBoer's four years with the Sharks they lost in the first, second, third, and fourth playoff rounds. Prior to that he had some tougher stints with significantly worse rosters, though he did end up a couple wins shy of a Cup with New Jersey as well.
Vegas, at the time of his hiring, seemed like a team that was right there as the favourite in the West with plenty of stars in the lineup. He’s no doubt a very good coach, excellent by the review of almost everyone who’s been involved with him, but his track record in San Jose paired with where Vegas was at when he was hired there always struck me as odd. A guy who struggled to get teams over the hump was handed a team stuck on that very same hump. That’s not to say it couldn’t work, but it never struck me as a “there it is, that’s that missing piece” acquisition for Vegas.
And here we are again, with a very good team that just failed to reach what looked like its potential. The offence dried up at the wrong time for most of these DeBoer teams. Vegas scored on Dallas just eight times in five games (two of which went to overtime). Dallas can defend, yes, but in the series prior Colorado hung 28 goals on the Stars in seven games (an average of four goals per). They aren’t the Dead Puck era Devils.
Last year DeBoer's Sharks team that bowed out to St. Louis were up 2-1 in the series before losing three in a row and scored just twice over those games. The year San Jose lost in the Cup Final they scored 12 times in six games. The year his Devils lost in the Final they scored 10 times in six games.
I don’t see anything specific that I think Vegas should’ve obviously done differently to help them over said hump. But at some point you’re tied to your results, and so good coach or not, DeBoer teams have a pattern of being very good and getting close, but falling short.
2. I think it’s well established at this point that I’m connected to the Islanders given the whole “Dad played for the Islanders” thing, and my own playing career. The walls of my childhood rooms were not light on blue and orange, I assure you. But I’m going to go ahead and say I do not like their chances of beating the Tampa Bay Lightning three times in a row here.
So, with that, I’ve been imagining what a Tampa/Dallas final will look like, and I gotta say: that series seems entirely un-bettable. That’s not a word, so let me explain.
How betting lines are set in sports is at least loosely instructive in showing what the expected outcomes will be (no need to explain how/why they’re specifically set in the comments, as the previous sentence will still hold true). I feel comfortable saying stuff about the Dallas/Vegas series like “It was the opposite of what most expected to happen” because even when Dallas was up 3-1 on Vegas in the series a $100 bet on a Stars win in Game 5 would’ve returned you about $250, while a $100 bet on Vegas might have got you back $160. Which is to say, Dallas was still considered a long shot despite showing they could beat Vegas. And I remind you here, Vegas was just “pretty good” in the regular season, hardly considered a juggernaut.
Tampa Bay is the absolute consensus favourite right now, and I think you could accurately say they’re the perceived best team in the NHL (particularly after their trade deadline acquisitions). If a new season started tomorrow, everyone with a fresh slate, they’d still be the odds-on favourites to win the Cup.
That view of the Lightning, paired with Dallas' label as an underdog against a lesser opponent than Tampa in the semis, means that this might be the most lopsided Stanley Cup Final in many, many years, at least by perception. It’s not often a team will be one of the top three seeds in its conference as Dallas was, blows through the conference final in five games, gets to the Cup Final...and you can get paid like $275 on a $100 bet for picking them to win a single game. I’m guessing that what’s coming, though.
Betting aside, if you’re the Stars you have to love being in that position. Narrative positioning like “Nobody believed in us, nobody gave us a chance,” -- coaches fight for that label. It gives teams a “nothing to lose” freedom, where when good things happen they feed off it, and every bit of good is a bonus. It allows for a bend-but-not-break mentality, which is what Dallas has thrived off through three rounds of playoff hockey so far.
Do I think Tampa Bay would beat them, if in fact that's the Cup Final matchup? Absolutely. I’ll probably pick it to happen in five games, and wouldn’t be stunned if it took one less.
One can only imagine that’s just how Dallas likes it.
You’ll recall that Seguin won a Stanley Cup as a rookie in 2011 with the Boston Bruins, a team backstopped by Tim Thomas.
It’s just so, so easy to see, I can’t believe it hasn’t been mentioned more prior to that quote. Khudobin kind of has the same build, he’s got the same old-school do-whatever-it-takes philosophy as Thomas, which inspires tweets like this from those in the goalie community.
Now, Seguin won the Cup that year playing in 13 games, scoring three times. This season he’s played in 20 games, and only scored twice. I have to imagine he’s hurt in some capacity, as he’s been more or less a non-factor. For him to bring home a second Cup, the Stars are going to need more than he was able to provide nearly 10 years and 300 goals ago. Seguin is too good to be this … just OK.
But for any of it to matter, Khudobin’s going to have to continue to match Thomas’ Conn Smythe level of play from the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The way he’s looked so far, it at least seems possible.