LAS VEGAS (AP) — Dallas coach Pete DeBoer couldn’t hide his joy when the Stars beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-0 in January.
DeBoer — fired by the Golden Knights after the previous season — chugged a beer in the locker room. “Nailed it,” he said afterward.
Now there is much more on the line for DeBoer and the Stars than revenge and a cold one. The first game of the Western Conference Final is Friday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The Knights are a minus-140 favorite to win the NHL playoffs series, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Knights coach Bruce Cassidy, who was fired by Boston after last season, said DeBoer could have some advantages in knowing Vegas’ players strengths and weaknesses. But the Knights have two assistants on staff who coached under DeBoer last season and another, John Stevens, was on the Dallas bench the past three seasons.
“I’m just putting my feet up and relaxing because those guys have all the information,” Cassidy said tongue-in-cheek.
Cassidy said he needed to get to know his new players after getting the Knights job, but that wasn’t necessarily the case when DeBoer was hired in January 2020. He previously was on the Sharks’ bench in Vegas and San Jose developed an intense rivalry.
DeBoer took Vegas to the NHL semifinals two years in a row. When the injury-riddled Knights failed to make the playoffs last season for the first time in the franchise’s short history, DeBoer was let go. And now he faces his old team for the right to go to the Stanley Cup Final.
“No hiding from the fact that it means a little more,” said DeBoer, who kept his Las Vegas home.
Stars forward Jamie Benn acknowledged the coaching storyline, but …
“It’s playoffs,” Benn said. “We all want to win.”
NEXT GOALIE UP
The Knights were the only team this season to receive multiple victories from five goalies. They set an NHL record by winning four consecutive games with four different goaltenders.
So it should be little surprise that Adin Hill has picked up right where Laurent Brossoit left off. Brossoit was injured in Game 3 of the second-round series against Edmonton, and Hill jumped in. He went 3-1 against the Oilers with a 2.19 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage.
Behind Hill is Jonathan Quick, who won two Stanley Cups in Los Angeles. Quick was a late-season pickup by the Knights.
“I talked to Quickie the first day he got here, and he’s been nothing but a great role model for me,” Hill said. “I grew up watching him go on those Cup runs, and it’s pretty impressive what he was able to do for that team. I talk to him a lot, and he’s great to learn from.”
Dallas forward Joe Pavelski, who is 38 and in his 17th NHL season, is going to his sixth conference final since 2010 (second with the Stars, four with San Jose). But he’s still trying to get to his first Stanley Cup Final.
Stars defenseman Ryan Suter, also 38 and in his 18th season, has finally made it to a conference for the first time. It comes after a combined 1,470 games played (1,362 regular season and 108 playoffs), the most for any player before getting into a conference final for the first time.
“It’s something that Ryan and I have talked about really since the beginning of the season,” DeBoer said. “This is the goal, and he’s another guy that’s checked his ego, taken less, both on the power play and in minutes played, in order to move our group forward and to have this opportunity.”
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
Vegas made the Stanley Cup Final its first season, but hasn’t been back. The Knights made the final four in 2020 before losing to Dallas in five games in the bubble in Edmonton, Alberta. A year later, they were beaten in six games by Montreal one step away from playing for it all.
Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said those losses underscored the importance of having a clear No. 1 defenseman and a go-to center. Now the defensemen, led by Alex Pietrangelo, is the Knights’ strength, and Jack Eichel leads a group of deep centers.
ON A SCORING BINGE
Roope Hintz has essentially been a point-a-game player over the past three regular seasons for the Stars, and now has 19 points (nine goals and 10 assists) in 13 games this postseason. The 26-year-old forward is in his fifth NHL season.
“I knew he was a really good player and he did what I thought he would do during the regular season,” DeBoer said. “But to do it in the playoffs is a whole different world for young players.”
Hintz’s NHL-high 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in the first round against Minnesota set a Dallas playoff series record. He added seven more points (four goals) against Seattle, including a goal in the Stars’ 2-1 clincher in Game 7.