Dallas Stars Into Their 2Nd West Final In A Row After Knocking Out Last Two Cup Champions

Dallas Stars head coach Peter De Boer, left, congratulates center Matt Duchene after he scored the winning goal in the second overtime of Game 6 of an NHL hockey playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche Friday, May 17, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Dallas Stars head coach Peter De Boer, left, congratulates center Matt Duchene after he scored the winning goal in the second overtime of Game 6 of an NHL hockey playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche Friday, May 17, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Stars finally get a little bit of a breather after avoiding another Game 7 on the way to their second Western Conference final in a row.

They knocked out the last two Stanley Cup champions while playing 13 games in 26 nights. The last one stretched past midnight into early Saturday, when Matt Duchene's game-winning goal in double overtime ended Game 6 at Colorado. That came nearly an hour after Dallas thought it had won in the first extra period against the 2022 champs.

Dallas began these playoffs with a seven-game series over the Vegas Golden Knights, who last year beat the Stars in a six-game West final and then won the Stanley Cup.

“For the guys that were here last year, all we wanted was an opportunity to be in the position that we were last year, and snap your fingers and we’re back,” Stars goalie Jake Oettinger said. "Now it’s up to us to change the ending. We couldn’t ask for more than just another opportunity to get another run at it.”

The top-seeded Stars host Game 1 of the West final on Thursday against Edmonton or Vancouver. The Oilers won 5-1 on Saturday night to force a deciding Game 7 in that second-round series, on Monday night in Vancouver.

While Stars coach Pete DeBoer has never lost a Game 7, including one already this postseason against Vegas, they didn't particularly want to have to play another one.

“I don’t know what it is, in how many days, but it seems like it’s been a lot,” forward Mason Marchment said. "The grind is what makes it the playoffs, right? So just keep going and get ready for the next round.”

Marchment put a puck in the net 12 1/2 minutes into the first overtime against the Avs, but on-ice officials immediately waved off the goal and that call stood after replay review. The ruling was that Duchene, whose skates were outside the crease while jostling with defenseman Cale Makar, had impaired goalie Alexandar Georgiev's ability to try to make a play.

“It’s indescribable. You’re so happy and see all the boys hopping over the bench and then I look over and he’s kind of waving it off," Marchment said on the quick change of emotions. "Doesn't really matter now because we won. I thought it was a good goal but ...”

There was no debate about Duchene's goal to win it at 11:42 of the second overtime. After he carried the puck deep and flipped it to the front of the net, it was pinging around sticks before Joe Pavelski, the nearly 40-year-old still looking for his first Stanley Cup, pushed it to Duchene to left of Georgiev.

“Obviously, it can be a little tough to reset after you think it’s over, and hope it’s over, and then it’s kind of a gut-punch a little bit, but that’s kind of what we do,” Duchene said. “We’re a pretty even-keeled group. Everyone just reset and kept going.”

After opening these playoffs losing their first two games at home against Vegas, the Stars are in the West final for the third time in five seasons. They made the Stanley Cup Final in the 2020 playoffs that took place in the Canadian bubble during the COVID-19 pandemic, but lost to Tampa Bay in six games.

This is the seventh conference final for DeBoer, though like Pavelski he is still looking for his first Cup title. This is DeBoer's fifth final in six seasons with three different teams: both years in Dallas, after two with Vegas (2020 and 2021) and San Jose in 2019. He reached the Cup final with New Jersey in 2012, and San Jose in 2016.

“I never take for granted making the playoffs. It’s really hard. It’s really hard to win a round in this league. And it’s obviously even harder to win two and get to a conference final, so on, so on,” DeBoer said. “You never know how that journey is going to end. I think any of the teams left could win. You got to have some luck. You got to have some health. You got to have some bounces. Hopefully, the stars align for us.”

While there was probably no pun intended, everything has lined up nicely for Dallas and DeBoer so far this postseason.

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