Stars advance to Western Conference Final against Oilers after eliminating last 2 Stanley Cup champions

DALLAS (AP) — The top-seeded Dallas Stars are in the Western Conference Final after knocking out the last two Stanley Cup champions, one of those featuring a pair of 100-point scorers.

Edmonton had the NHL’s only other duo of 100-point scorers in the regular season, with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl now among four Oilers who are the top scorers in these playoffs. They were a league-best 45-14-5 to finish the regular season after a 5-12-1 start.

“People probably would have predicted Edmonton would be in the conference final,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “Since November, they’ve been an elite team in just about every category.”

Dallas hosts Game 1 on Thursday night. This is the first playoff matchup between the Stars and Oilers since April 2003, when their sixth postseason meeting in seven years happened the month before the Stars top goal scorer Wyatt Johnston was born.

After a seven-game series in the first round against reigning champion Vegas, the Stars had a double-overtime Game 6 clincher against 2022 champion Colorado, which had league MVP finalist Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantnen.

The Stars are in the third round for the second year in a row. Edmonton outlasted Vancouver in a seven-game second-round series to get back into the West final for the second time in three years, and like the Stars lost in its last trip to the eventual Cup champion.

“A lesson for our group from the past is you can’t get too far ahead of yourself,” McDavid said Wednesday night. “You’ve got to stay in the moment, especially playing against a team like Dallas. They require all your attention and then some, and they definitely have it.”

Edmonton, which last made a Stanley Cup Final in 2006, is 1-2 this season against the Stars, with neither McDavid nor Draisaitl scoring a goal in any of those games. McDavid has only four goals in his last 15 games against Dallas.

“You’ve got to know when they’re on the ice at all times ... managing the puck a little better, a little sharper, and trying not to give them free offense,” Stars forward Jason Robertson said.

While McDavid had only one goal in each of Edmonton’s series wins over the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver, he has 19 assists in 12 games after 100 helpers in the regular season. Draisaitl has a league-high 24 playoff points (eight goals), with defenseman Evan Bouchard at 20 points (five goals) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with 16 (four goals).

GOALIES

Stars goalie Jake Oettinger was off the ice early during Wednesday’s practice. DeBoer said the All-Star was “feeling a little under the weather” but expects him to be fine for Game 1.

Oettinger is 8-5 this postseason with a 2.09 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. He has allowed two goals or fewer nine times, and had 29 saves in the finale against the Avalanche.

Stuart Skinner is 7-3 with a 2.87 GAA and .881 save percentage while starting 10 of the Oilers’ playoff games.

Skinner was pulled in the third period of Game 4 against Vancouver after four goals on 15 shots. Calvin Pickard then won Game 5 and lost Game 6 before Skinner went back in net.

“Ideally we’ve got Skinner running right through the end of the season,” Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said. “Because, really, does a coach change his lineup after a win, especially the starting goalie.”

INJURED GUYS BACK?

Edmonton forward Adam Henrique returned to practice after an ankle injury limited him to playing only part of Game 2 in the Vancouver series.

“We believe he’s really close and we expect him early in the series, whether that’s Game 1, 2 or 3,” Knoblauch said.

Stars top-line center Roope Hintz left in the first period of Game 4 against Colorado with an upper-body injury, missed the last two games and likely wouldn’t have played in a Game 7.

DeBoer said Hintz “skated pretty extensively” on Wednesday before the Stars’ full practice and is day-to-day.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Oilers have the best power play this postseason, converting on 37.5% of their chances (15 of 40). They just may not get too many chances in this series.

Dallas was the NHL’s least-penalized team in the regular season at only 6.8 minutes per game, and is even better in the playoffs at 5.2 per game.

“The best penalty kill is staying out of the box. We don’t take penalties, and I don’t anticipate that changing,” DeBoer said. “Colorado had a great power play, and we had to deal with that. Vegas actually had a really good power play. This one’s probably a little bit of a different level than those.”

Edmonton has also been the best team short-handed in the playoffs, killing off 32 of 35 penalties (91.4%) after ranking in the middle of the league during the regular season.

DROPPING OPENERS

Dallas has lost Game 1 in each of its past six playoff series, including both openers at home this postseason.

All three of the Stars’ Game 1 losses during the 2023 postseason were in overtime, as was the opener against Colorado in the last round. The Avalanche never led that game until scoring the OT goal for a 4-3 win — the same final score for the Stars in two Game 1s against the Golden Knights, in the first round this season and in West final at Vegas last year.

AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL