A berth in the NHL’s Western Conference finals is on the line Monday night, as the Dallas Stars host the Seattle Kraken in Game 7 of their second-round series (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
The series has been quite a back-and-forth affair, as the teams split the first four contests then the Stars went ahead 3-2, before the Kraken roared back with a 6-3 win on home ice in Game 6.
Who will win the pivotal showdown? And which players from each team will have the biggest impact on the result? Our NHL reporters check in:
Who will be the key player for Seattle?
Ryan S. Clark, NHL reporter: There won’t be just one. There will be several, because that is how that team has operated. For all the reasons you can say it will be Matty Beniers, Vince Dunn, Yanni Gourde or Philipp Grubauer, it could end up being Adam Larsson, Eeli Tolvanen or Justin Schultz instead.
Victoria Matiash, NHL analyst: Grubauer will need to be his very best self against a Dallas offense that’s bound to press hard from the onset. The Stars are too well coached and experienced to allow themselves to be outshot in the first period for a third straight game, while Jake Oettinger has yet to lose two in a row this postseason. Seattle’s netminder will have to be the better of the two for his side to hold any hope of moving on. A big ask, all considered.
Kristen Shilton, NHL reporter: Grubauer. Seattle isn’t a star-driven team. The Kraken will need a star turn from their goaltender in Game 7. Grubauer is 3-3 with an .865 save percentage and a 3.78 goals against average in this series. Dallas watched the Kraken knock Oettinger out of Game 6. Goaltending has never been more pivotal in this matchup than it is now, and Grubauer has to be at his best and deliver a performance worthy of the moment.
Greg Wyshynski, NHL reporter: I know the Kraken have owned the no superstars, just a different hero every night corner during the Stanley Cup playoffs. That said, Jordan Eberle has been an individual force in this series. The winger has eight points in six games, including a three-point night in Game 6 to help push the Stars to the brink. He is the Kraken’s leading scorer in the series — with the playoff beard to match — and is an exemplary veteran linemate for rookies Beniers and Tye Kartye. Eberle was clutch for the New York Islanders in the playoffs, and he has been the same for Seattle.
Who will be the key player for Dallas?
Clark: It’s a toss-up between Roope Hintz and Jake Oettinger. We’ll go with Hintz for this reason: He did not get a point in Game 6, which was monumental because of how much he drives play. There’s a reason he is tied for second in points this postseason, with 18.
Matiash: Captain Jamie Benn and his 3-1 record in Game 7s will set the tone in the dressing room and on the ice for the Stars. Before failing to register a point in Game 6, the veteran leader contributed at least an assist in all previous playoff meetings with Seattle. By getting back on the scoring track — and contributing in all other facets of the game — he’ll serve as one key difference-maker for Dallas in this crucial tilt.
Shilton: Joe Pavelski. He has scored 10 points in eight playoff games so far. And no one will be more motivated than Pavelski to get Dallas onto the next round. He is a veteran who has been chasing the Stanley Cup dream his entire career, and opportunities like the one Dallas has now don’t come often. Look for Pavelski to do everything in his power to get the Stars over the line.
Wyshynski: Jake Oettinger, full stop. There’s a stat many Stars fans can quote like scripture ahead of Game 7: Since the end of last season’s playoffs, Oettinger is a remarkable 23-2-3 after a loss this season. That includes a 4-0 mark in the playoffs. When Pete DeBoer pulled him in Game 6, the coach said he was “looking down the road to make sure Jake’s got energy.” In other words, it wasn’t so much trying to goose a flat team as making sure Oettinger was rested and ready for his next bounce-back game.
What is your final score prediction
Clark: Look at the two items that have guided this series: Which team can be aggressive early, and which one can explode for the big period. Whoever can do one of those two things, if not both, will win this game. Let’s say the Kraken win 5-3 (with the realization the Stars could do the same).
Matiash: Veteran leadership and experience give the Stars — who haven’t lost two in a row this postseason — the edge in this one. Dallas takes it 6-3 over the Kraken, who have every right to hold their heads high in what’s been an impressive run in the second season of the franchise.
Shilton: It feels like this will be a high-scoring affair. Maybe not defense-optional, exactly. But after the way Game 6 played out, and knowing there’s nothing left to hold back for, I expect both sides to be assertive offensively and fire everything on net. I’m anticipating plenty of chances off the rush and a good deal of back and forth. Going with Dallas over Seattle 5-4.
Wyshynski: Dallas wins 4-2. Even with a stronger Oettinger outing, the Kraken don’t go down without a fight. But the underlying numbers tell us that Dallas should have probably put this series to bed already; the Stars’ underlying numbers defensively at 5-on-5 over the past two games have been stellar, and they should get the saves from Oettinger in Game 7. That plus the combination of the home crowd and the Stars’ desperation should be enough to advance Dallas to the conference finals.