The sophomore Seattle Kraken were playing the same solid defensive play that allowed them to upset the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 of the first round.
But the Dallas Stars found a way around the shot-blocking machine on Monday night: break away.
All-star forward Roope Hintz came on, stole the puck from Kraken defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and burst in on goaltender Philipp Grubauer, beating him with a wrist shot from 20 feet at 15:59 of the second. period. This broke a scoreless tie and the Stars won 2-1 in Game 7 and advanced to the Western Conference Finals.
They will face the Vegas Golden Knights, the team that fired Stars coach Peter DeBoer in the offseason.
“There’s a lot to unpack there,” DeBoer said. “I think we’ll just enjoy it and talk about it as we go along.”
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Wyatt Johnston broke in alone on Grubauer in the third period to make it 2-0 in Dallas. The rookie, who turned 20 on Sunday, notched his second straight game-clinching goal in the series and became the youngest player in NHL history to score a game-winning goal in Game 7.
Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger, who was retired in Game 6, made 22 saves to improve to 5-0 after a playoff loss. He only allowed Oliver Bjorkstrand’s goal with 18 seconds left.
What’s next for the Stars?
They head to the Conference Finals for the first time in the 2020 bubble, when they lost in the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s a reunion for DeBoer, who improved to 7-0 in Game 7 on Monday. He had taken Vegas to the conference finals in 2020 and 2021 but was fired after missing the playoffs last season. He gets a second chance to knock the Golden Knights out of the playoffs after doing so in 2019 while coaching the San Jose Sharks. The Stars are the fourth team he took to the Conference Finals (also the New Jersey Devils).
The Stars can launch a lot of offense against the top-seeded Golden Knights. Hintz is the leading scorer remaining in the playoffs with 19 points. Jason Robertson, Joe Pavelski (eight second-round goals), trade deadline acquisition Max Domi and captain Jamie Benn also have double-digit points. Tyler Seguin, Evgenii Dadonov and defenseman Miro Heiskanen are close with nine points. Every Stars skater has at least one point.
The Golden Knights, led by Jack Eichel and Mark Stone, are averaging 3.73 goals per game, compared to the Stars’ 3.62, but Dallas has a decisive special teams advantage.
What’s next for the Kraken?
The second-year franchise is expected to stay in contention after improving 40 points from its inaugural season. There are not many contracts to negotiate. Ryan Donato, who scored the franchise’s first goal, is an unrestricted free agent. The same goes for backup goaltender Martin Jones and defenseman Carson Soucy. Restricted free agent defenseman Vince Dunn will receive a big $4 million salary increase this season after finishing second on the team with 64 points.
The Kraken managed to eliminate the Avalanche despite the absence of Jared McCann and Andre Burakovsky. Their balanced score makes them a threat.