3 keys: Oilers at Stars, Game 1 of the Western Conference final

(2P) Oilers to (1C) Stars

Western Conference Finals, Game 1

8:30 p.m. ET; MAX, truTV, TNT, SN, TVAS, CBC

DALLAS– The Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars open the best-of-seven Western Conference final Thursday at the American Airlines Center.

The Stars (52-21-9) finished first in the Central Division and beat the Vegas Golden Knights in seven games in the Western Conference first round and the Colorado Avalanche in six games in the second round . This is the second consecutive season that Dallas has reached the conference finals; last season, they lost in six games to the Golden Knights, who went on to win the Stanley Cup.

“I think when we were playing those games against Vegas last year, it was more of a hope that we can win, hopefully everything goes well and we can win,” Stars coach Pete said DeBoer Thursday. “I think that’s the difference this year, I don’t think we’re hoping we can win; we believe and think that we should win every night.

The Oilers (49-27-6) finished second in the Pacific Division; they beat the Los Angeles Kings in five games in the first round and the Vancouver Canucks in seven games in the second round.

Edmonton is playing in its second conference final in three years; he was swept by Colorado in this round in 2022.

“We’re definitely a little more experienced and a little more comfortable,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said Thursday, “but we know we’re playing a really good hockey team. It’s going to take a lot of work and we’re excited to have the opportunity to push them every night and we’ll see what happens.

Here are 3 keys for game 1:

1. No clue for openers

Dallas will be without first-line center Roope Hintz for Game 1; he will miss his third straight playoff game with an upper-body injury and that’s day-to-day, according to DeBoer.

“He’s getting closer,” DeBoer said. “He skated yesterday, he skates today. I’m hopeful for Game 2.”

Hintz has six points (two goals, four assists) in 11 playoff games; he was injured in Game 4 against the Avalanche and did not play in Games 5 or 6. He was tied for third for Dallas with 65 points (30 goals, 35 assists) in 80 games during the regular season.

2. Who is the most special?

Edmonton has the best special teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. His power play (37.5 percent) and penalty kill (91.4 percent) each lead the NHL.

The Oilers went 6 of 20 (30.0%) on the power play against the Canucks in the second round and Nugent-Hopkins’ series-winning goal in Game 7 was scored with the man advantage man.

“We know what they’re looking for and you just try to anticipate,” Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger said. “We have to do defensive work. Our penalty kill can be much better and it starts tonight.

Dallas, the least penalized team of the four remaining playoff teams, has allowed eight power play goals on 26 opportunities (69.2 percent).

3. Gold in the goals

Oettinger left practice early Wednesday, but he will start the first game for the Stars. He has played every minute of the playoffs thus far for Dallas and is 8-5 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.

“I feel good,” Oettinger said. “Obviously we are happy to give ourselves a little rest, we deserved it, and now it’s our turn to enjoy it.”

Stuart Skinner will start for the Oilers; he is 7-3 with a 2.87 GAA and .881 save percentage in 10 playoff starts. He was pulled for the third period in Game 3 of the second round against the Canucks, a 4-3 loss, and did not play in Games 4 and 5 of that series, replaced by Calvin Pickard.

Skinner was back in goal in Games 6 and 7 against Vancouver and helped Edmonton overcome a 3–2 series deficit to win in seven games.

“I think Stu would have found his game if we kept playing him or if we gave him that reset,” Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said. “Ever since I’ve been watching Stu here in Edmonton, he’s been pretty darn good. He has been a solid goaltender and almost an elite goaltender. I think we have a lot of confidence in him and we expect him to play well.

Oilers Projected Lineup

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Connor McDavid – Zach Hyman

Dylan Holloway – Leon Draisaitl – Evander Kane

Warren Foegele – Ryan McLeod – Derek Ryan

Mattias Janmark – Sam Carrick – Connor Brown

Mattias Ekholm-Evan Bouchard

Darnell Nurse — Vincent Desharnais

Brett Kulak – Cody Ceci

Stuart Skinner

Calvin Pickard

Striped: Corey Perry, Sam Gagner, Troy Stecher

Hurt: Adam Henrique (lower body)

Projected lineup of stars

Jason Robertson – Wyatt Johnston – Logan Stankoven

Jamie Benn – Joe Pavelski – Evgenii Dadonov

Mason Marchment — Tyler Seguin — Matt Duchene

Craig Smith – Radek Faksa – Sam Steel

Thomas Harley-Miro Heiskanen

Esa Lindell – Chris Tanev

Ryan Suter – Nils Lundkvist

Jake Oettinger

Scott Wedgewood

Striped: Ty Dellandrea

Hurt: Jani Hakanpaa (lower body), Roope Hintz (upper body)

Status report

The Oilers will dress in the same lineup they used in a 3-2 win over the Canucks in Game 7 of the Western Conference second round on Monday.

NHL.com freelance correspondent Taylor Baird contributed to this report.

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